Long in the works, Facebook’s solar-powered, internet-giving plane is finally ready to take flight. The social media giant recently unveiled the Aquila, a V-shaped drone with the wingspan of a Boeing 737, which will be used to deliver Internet services to developing regions around the world. There are currently 5 billion people who lack access to the information superhighway. That number represents a lot of untapped Likes. Facebook hopes its autonomous plane will help to bring these potential Friends into the fold.
Though Aquila is quite large, the plane will only weigh between 880 and 1,100 pounds. This low weight will allow the plane to reach extremely high altitudes. According to Facebook, “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].” At this height, the Aquila will be flying above the commercial planes and much of the clouds. In order to conserve energy, the plane will lower its altitude at night when sunlight is not available to power the planes.
The futuristic tech that empowers the Aquila appropriately involves lasers. In regions without Internet access, ground-based lasers will pinpoint the location of the nearest Aquila. Like an echolocating bat, the Aquila will move towards the signal, then determine the specific location based on the laser signal. Because the Aquila depends on laser communication via the sky, Internet service can become slow and patchy in inclement weather. Rain and clouds notwithstanding, Facebook’s lasers are a force to be reckoned with. The company has tested a laser that delivers data at the speed of dozens of gigabytes per second, much higher than the current technology in use can deliver.
The Aquila drones are designed to stay airborne for up to three months, far longer than the current record of two weeks. To enable such a long flight, Facebook has equipped its autonomous plane with solar panels, which cover the top of the plane’s body. The company hopes that this longevity will allow for the creation of a resilient network of Internet-transmitting planes. In partnership with local carriers, the Aquila could play an important role in finally opening the world wide web to the whole wide world.
Via The Verge