Necessity, it seems, is the mother of invention when it comes to improving Internet access across the globe. Before the end of 2015, Facebook plans to launch an unmanned drone called Aquila to test whether the social media giant can use lightweight, automated aircraft to bring connectivity to remote parts of the world.
Named after the mythological eagle that delivered Zeus' thunderbolt to Earth, the Facebook drone weighs just 1,000 pounds and has a wingspan of 140 feet. The airborne Internet access tower represents more than a year of planning, development and partnerships with other technology companies that want to increase Internet connectivity across the world.
Facebook drones could potentially provide less expensive Internet access than cellphone towers since the floating transmission towers do not require anchors to the ground, construction vehicles in remote places nor any ground-based expenses such as land acquisition. The initiative comes out of the company's Connectivity Lab and a partnership with United Kingdom's Ascenta, a firm that specializes in unmanned aircraft.
Aquila resembles neither a small quad-copter nor a floating wind turbine. It hovers between 60,000 and 90,000 feet above the ground collecting solar energy to stay afloat for up to three months. At those heights, the Facebook drone flies above commercial aircraft and higher than weather systems that could interfere with operations and power collection.
The key to the entire premise lies in lasers that can cut through clouds. To complete Internet connections over a 31-mile radius, the aircraft uses laser beams to transmit data and satellites to receive information from distant sources. The company claims the new lasers can transmit 10 gigabytes of data per second or more, a breakthrough in light transmission only seen in physical fiber optic connections.
The only thing keeping the Facebook drone grounded remains Federal Aviation Administration approval for test flights. Once that happens, the social media giant joins Google and Amazon.com in the quest to conquer the skies using robots. Google plans to launch drone balloons as part of a "drone superhighway," while Facebook intends to use large helium balloons to carry its drone upward quickly to avoid commercial airplanes.
In April 2015, the FAA granted Amazon.com an exemption to rules for drone test flights. The retailer can test delivery systems for packages under a certain weight and size above busy cities that experience delays due to traffic and logistics. The Prime Air service from Amazon.com previously tested outside the United States and drones have gone through several design phases.
The friendly skies have gotten more crowded now that drones have become less expensive. Facebook drones represent an amalgamation of several technologies that have advanced far enough to become cost effective for further investment. Once these automated aircraft perfect their operational parameters, more and more companies can rely on new applications of this futuristic technology.
Photo courtesy of Victor Habbick at FreeDigitalPhotos.net