MENLO PARK, Calif.—Facebook is looking to the skies to bring Internet to the world’s 4 billion people not yet online. The social networking giant announced the project’s latest developments July 30, saying the Aquila, a high-altitude, long endurance, solar powered drone is complete and ready to enter slight testing.
“10 percent of the world’s population lives in remote locations with no internet infrastructure, and the kinds of infrastructure technologies used everywhere else — things like fiber-optic cable, microwave repeaters and cell towers — may be a challenge to deploy cost-effectively in these regions,” Jay Parikh, vice-president of Global Engineering and Infrastructure at Facebook, said in a statement.
“That’s where the Connectivity Lab comes in. Our goal is to accelerate the development of a new set of technologies that can drastically change the economics of deploying internet infrastructure,” he added.
The Aquila has a wingspan similar to that of a 737, but weighs hundreds of times less, due to its design and carbon-fiber frame. When deployed, it will be able to circle a remote region for up to 90 days, beaming connectivity down to people from an altitude of 60,000 to 90,000 feet, the company said.
The company also noted its laser communications team, based in Woodland Hills, California, has achieved a significant performance breakthrough, designing a laser capable of delivering data at 10 gigabytes per second — approximately 10-times faster than the previous state-of-the-art in the industry — to a target the size of a dime from more than 10 miles away.
“We are now starting to test these lasers in real-world conditions,” Parikh said. “When finished, our laser communications system can be used to connect our aircraft with each other and with the ground, making it possible to create a stratospheric network that can extend to even the remotest regions of the world,”
Though the company said its excited about the early progress, it emphasized the project still has a long way to go.
“We plan to engage with the broader community and share what we’ve learned, so we can all move faster in the development of these technologies,” Parikh said.