As part of their ambitious plan to bring internet connectivity to the estimated 5 billion people who are currently unable to access the internet, Facebook plans to conduct tests of a solar-powered drone that is the size of a commercial airliner. The drone is designed to beam internet signal to communities currently outside the reach of conventional cellular data networks, and could ultimately stay aloft for months, if not years, at a time.
Facebook has been working on Internet.org, a project which has sought to spread internet access throughout the world since 2013. In addition to the issues of communities which lay outside the reach of standard land line or cellular access, Internet.org also cites the prohibitive cost of data access and hardware, limited and expensive power supplies, and the concern that content is not always available in their native language even after one of these communities gains internet access. Through partnerships with tech giants such as Nokia and Samsung, Facebook hopes to begin to address some of these issues.
Related: Google buys solar-powered drones to boost internet access in third world countries
One of the solutions they’ve developed is, yes, a massive internet-beaming solar drone. The very notion of an unmanned aircraft the size of a Boeing 747 is, on the face of it, somewhat terrifying. But after successful tests of a smaller version of the craft last year, and the development of better solar and solar battery technologies in the intervening time, Facebook things they’re ready to give it a shot.
It’s important to emphasize that this is strictly at the testing stage, but the drone is designed to cruise some 60,000 to 90,000 feet in the air and use lasers to beam high speed internet to remote corners of the world. Initially they predict the drones could stay aloft for three months at a time, but in future they could stay in the skies for longer. According to the New York Times, Facebook imagines a fleet of 1,000 of these craft beaming internet across the globe (though not in competition with existing carriers).
But, speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook Vice President of Engineering Jay Parikh admitted that “Depending on how this test flight goes, we’ll see what happens… This is a big plane, this is a big project and it’s never been done before.”
Via The Verge
Images via Internet.org and Facebook