Facebook revealed its biggest project to date—flying giant drones to bring the Internet to remote areas all over the world. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO has announced that the company has successfully completed the first test flight of its giant drones in the UK. Zuckerberg posted this announcement on his Facebook page, “As part of our effort to connect to the world, we’ve designed unmanned aircraft that can beam internet access down to people from the sky.”
At the concluded Facebook F8 conference in San Francisco, California, the chief technology officer of Facebook, Mike Shroepfer, revealed the Aquila, an internet-connected unmanned drone with the wingspan of a Boeing 737, and the mass of a small car.
Here are key facts about Facebook’s Internet drones:
- As big as a Boeing 737 jet liner with a wingspan greater than a 737
- Weigh less than a car
- Set to soar at 60,000-65,000 ft (18,288- 19,800 m) for months at a time
- Currently being made at a disclosed location in the UK
Facebook drones will be much like jumbo jets in size than traditional drones. They will be powered by solar panels attached on its wings and will be able to maintain altitudes or 60,000 feet or more for months at a time. This altitude is deemed safe because it is a point where winds are at their lowest. According to Yael Maguire, the engineering director of Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, said that although the drones are supersized, they will be much lighter than a commercial aeroplane, which weighs around 600,000 lbs (272,155 kg) without passengers and fuel.
After the first test flight, it could still take three to five years until the first jumbo solar-powered drones would take up flight and beam Wi-Fi down onto the remotest parts of the world without internet access. Facebook has revealed that the drones will be relatively cheap and most effective for remote suburban areas that do not have infrastructure or cables that carry telephone and internet signals. Facebook has collaborated with Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung, and other major tech firms to develop the drones under an initiative called Internet.org.
Ten percent of the whole world’s population live in remote communities without any existing Internet capabilities. The initiative considers this as one of the fundamental challenges of our time. With this type of aircraft, Facebook aims to solve the problem by connecting this 10% of the population with the rest of the world via drone technology. Drones would be the key to getting connectivity around the world. And when people have access to the Internet, they not only get to connect with their family, friends, and communities, but they also gain access to information and tools to help them expand their knowledge, find jobs or opportunities for higher education and career growth, access to healthcare and financial services, start business, and improve their own communities. Expanding internet access throws the gate wide open for people from these remote areas get to participate in the knowledge economy which could create new jobs, reduce child mortality by the hundred, and lift millions of people out of poverty.