Drone-as-a-Service: Facebook gets its solar-powered Internet sprayer airborne

Ian Scales
By Ian Scales

Jul 22, 2016

Source: Facebook

Source: Facebook

Facebook’s connectivity Lab has finally got the first test flight for Aquila off the ground. Aquila (eagle in Latin and romance languages) is the solar-powered drone that’s going to fly high and beam down internet connections across hardest-to-service remote areas of the globe where 1.5 billion of the as yet unconnected four billion people live.

The craft, a full-sized version of the final thing, took off over the Arizona desert and got to 2000 feet without major mishap.  Eventually Facebook will coax the craft up to 60,000 feet into the stratosphere and above the weather where it (and  hopefully its many companions) will circle slowly and each beam internet connection down to a footprint about 60 miles across.

Source: Facebook

Source: Facebook

Aquila will develop in stages. The first flight was battery powered and only able to get part the way up there. The ultimate Aquila will have solar receptors and different batteries so it can stay up at 60,000 feet  - well above airplane flight paths and well beyond the reach of a homicidal maniac with a kalashnikov, in case you were wondering.

Facebook says the aircraft has the wingspan of an airliner, but can cruise slowly consuming only  5,000 watts — the same consumption as three hair dryers, or a high-end microwave.

The radio part (antennas and all) will be left to others. Facebook says it doesn’t want to compete with anyone, just make the platform (the plane) available and plans to give away the blueprints once everything works properly.

Source: Facebook

Source: Facebook

So that’s the plan, all part of a broader scheme to bring technology to bear in a way that will provide broadband (and Facebook) to everyone who wants it.

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