Mark Zuckerberg wants to bring the internet to the poorest regions of the world. The CEO of Facebook announced internet.org, a project that envisioned giant, solar-powered drones providing internet access in the remotest corners of the Earth.
The plan involves satellite use for the transmission of signals in the densely populated regions while the less dense rural areas will be connected via drones.
Facebook’s internet drone just completed its maiden test flight in Arizona. Also known as the Project Aquila, the massive, intimidating UAV is shaped like wings and employs a carbon fibre design.
The wingspan of the solar-powered Facebook drone is akin to that of a Boeing 737 jet. However, its weight is nearly the same as that of a small car.
The Facebook research team built a scaled model of the full-fledged version and worked on it for months before the test flight of the actual internet drone. Zuckerberg dreams of a future where a fleet of such drones would fly above the users for months at a time, powered only by the sun and enabling internet access anywhere in the world.
The drone will typically fly between 60,000 feet to 90000 feet, cruising above the weather and commercial flights. Aquila will try to minimise its energy usage during the night time, when the solar energy will not be available, by flying at lower altitudes.
A laser connection will transmit data to the drone from the central base station, which will then be redirected towards the ground antennae within 50 kilometres.
The antennae will convert the laser signal into signals for 4G or WiFi networks. The prototype drone can deliver data rates of 10Gbps.
The test flight of Facebook drone lasted around 90 minutes, thrice the time that the team had initially planned. The maiden flight of the internet drone was a low altitude flight, and the team will now tweak various features of the drone to make it fly at higher altitudes.
The team has yet to figure out a way to provide enough power to the drone to keep it flying for three months while it functions normally.
Zuckerberg’s project has received some sharp criticism regarding the potential gains that the organisation may draw from the project it claims to be a purely altruistic venture. With the recent FAA drone laws in place, it appears as if the pace of the internet.org project will not be dictated by the design challenges, but the regulation obstacles.