Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) and Internet.org plans to use drones, to provide internet access to the people still not online, is not new. Facebook Connectivity Lab revealed its plans for the first time in March, and now more details have been provided by engineering director at Facebook Connectivity Lab, Yael Maguire at the 2014 Social Good Summit on Monday. It is estimated that only 15% of the world’s population lacks the internet facility.
Size and weight of planes
Maguire, who likes to address the ‘drones’ as ‘planes,’ when used for providing internet, in a conversation with Mashable CEO Pete Cashmore told, “In order for us to fly these planes — unmanned planes that have to fly for months, or perhaps years at a time — we actually have to fly above the weather, above all airspace,” which is generally between 60,000 and 90,000 feet. Maguire added that planes do not go that high, “and certainly not drones.”
The planes need to run on solar power as they need to fly for long durations, and no such fuel exists that can support such long duration flights. These planes are meant to be lighter, but “roughly” similar in size to a commercial aircraft like a 747. Maguire also informed that the lab is working on a plane model that will be as lengthy as six or seven Priuses. These planes are said to be as light as the four tires of a Prius.
Facebook planes in 3-5 years
The number of people not yet connected through internet is higher in developing nations and therefore the team has its focus on the developing nations only. One such developing nation with less internet connectivity is India as cited by Maguire. In this nation, there are more than15% people, who have no connectivity of any kind. The team has chosen 21 countries from the continents of Africa, Latin America and Asia. The geographic scenario of 21 countries chosen by the team affects the design of the planes like how the sun hits the solar panels, etc.
On the time frame for planes availability, Maguire told that the team plans to fly atleast one of the planes in 2015. Facebook executive expects that in three-to-five-year time frame, the planes will be able to provide internet.