Social media giant Facebook is reportedly “ready to spend billions” on an ambitious scheme which would bring reliable internet to every corner of the globe. Plans are very much in their infancy, but the project would involve huge, solar powered unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Ascenta engineers put to work
Facebook has named the project Aquila, and looks set to use the UAV expertise of manufacturer Ascenta, which the company acquired last year. The idea was to turn Ascenta into an in-house team for drone design, and staff have already been put to work developing a UAV which can spend up to 3 months in the air, cruising at altitudes of between 60,000 and 90,000 feet.
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Based on current information from Facebook, the UAVs are expected to have a similar wingspan to that of a Boeing 767, which measures around 156 feet from tip to tip. However, the vehicles will only weigh around the same as a small hatchback car.
Ambitious plans to serve every corner of the globe
Facebook believes that a fleet of around 1,000 of these UAVs should be able to bring high-speed internet connectivity to the entire surface of the planet. If some regions prove too difficult for the UAVs to operate in, the company is thought to be considering potential satellite deployments.
“We want to serve every person in the world,” said Yael Maguire, head of Facebook’s Connectivity Lab. The first test flights are already penciled in for summer 2015, but it seems unlikely that our internet will be provided by solar-powered UAVs any time soon.
Facebook will be competing with Google, which is developing a similar scheme known as Project Loon, which instead of UAVs uses high-altitude weather balloons. Assuming that either one of them ever makes it to market, there will be 5 billion new internet users grateful for their new-found connectivity.
High-speed internet that is accessible from anywhere on the Earth’s surface will surely accelerate the move away from physical storage to cloud computing, allow faster progress in the progression of the Internet of Things and lead to better communications in remote areas. Let’s hope Facebook and Google make significant progress in the area, and fast.