Facebook is using drones to promote internet use across the globe as part of co-founder Mark Zuckerberg’s plans to make the internet accessible to everyone. His vision is that these unmanned vehicles, which can fly for a duration of three months without landing, will laser beam data to certain stations, enabling users to access the internet without a fixed connection.
Zuckerberg plans to do this with the help of locals ISPs (Internet Service Providers). The first drone, already launched, is called Aquila. This project aims to deliver the internet to those living in remote regions of the world. Zuckerberg intends to connect the entire human population by combining his drones and the Internet.org service, which gives free access to a number of websites and services to keep people connected.
Jay Parikh, Facebook’s vice president of engineering, said: “Our mission is to connect everybody in the world. This is going to be a great opportunity for us to motivate the industry to move faster on this technology.”
Aquila, the solar powered drone, will fly at the same altitude as commercial aeroplanes. At night time, when it no longer has the power of the sun to recharge, it will hover lower in the atmosphere.
Aquila will launch in the US and once it has been tried and tested in remote places, it can then be rolled out to countries with the lowest levels of internet adoption without the infrastructure to offer traditional internet services.
As Aquila lacks wheels, helium balloons are being used to launch the drones into the air so they can circulate areas where they need to operate.
Latest Facebook Drone news
05/07/2017: A Successful second test flight for the Aquila drone
Facebook has completed a second test flight of the Aquila internet drone. It flew for an hour and forty-six minutes, and landed perfectly on a prepared landing area, rather than crash landing as was the case with Facebook’s previous trial.
During this second round, the team reworked the drone, including improvements learned from the first flight, such as the addition of new sensors to collect data, the modification of the autopilot software, a propeller, an improved landing mechanism and the integration of new radios for the communication subsystem.
Aquila’s test flight took place at an altitude of 3,000ft. However, it is still lower than Facebook wants it to fly when it’s launched commercially. The company has big plans for its drones and wants them to stay in the skies for a month and for them to communicate with each other via lasers.
The Aquila drone uses a Kevlar pad attached to the bottom part of the motor pods to land. For the landing pad, the group made a 500-foot circle of level gravel, around 6 inches thick and with the consistency of rough sand.
Facebook said it was excited by the results of the tests. Connected people to the internet through high-altitude solar-powered aircraft is no mean feat, but developments like the success of the second flight make Facebook’s efforts justified.
Facebook will now make further improvements to its drone before testing it yet again.
19/12/2016: Facebook solar-powered internet drone crashes to earth
Strong winds were apparently to blame for Facebook’s solar-powered drone crashing from the skies back down to earth.
Although the crash was only revealed in the last few weeks, it happened in the summer when the drone’s autopilot system became confused by wind gusts and turbulence while it was trying to land in the Arizona desert.
Following the tests, Facebook said the flight had gone well and avoided the crash, but the National Transportation Safety Board revealed the drone, which will be used to provide inaccessible areas with internet had crashed landed.
“On June 28, 2016, at 0743 mountain standard time, the Facebook Aquila unmanned aircraft, N565AQ, experienced an inflight structural failure on final approach near Yuma, Arizona,” the NTSB’s report said. “The aircraft was substantially damaged. There were no injuries and no ground damage.”
25/07/2016: Facebook’s internet drones will be powered by the sun and manufactured by a UK company, it has been revealed.
Bridgwater-based company Ascenta, which was acquired by Facebook two years ago explained it has dismantled the drones it produced and has sent them for testing in Arizona in the US.
The drones have a wingspan the same size as a Boeing 737 aeroplane, but because they are so light, they can fly for longer and are more agile than aircraft.
“It needs to be light. Every kilo of extra weight means we need more power to fly it,” Ascenta’s founder Andy Cox told the BBC.
The drones can currently for 90 minutes before needing to be recharged, but Facebook wants them to continuously fly for three months before they are released in the wild.
“Eventually we will fly at 60,000-90,000 feet, above conventional air traffic, where it’s very cold, and for periods of up to three months,” Cox added. “That means we can loiter around a given waypoint providing the internet without interfering with other traffic.”
Rules and Regulations
The rules and regulations regarding drone use are a bit iffy, and guidelines are being made right now to regulate Aquila and the other drones that will eventually join ranks with Aquila.
Currently, according to news sources such as the Guardian, no rules or regulations are being broken by Zuckerberg. Aquila will have to fly at certain heights, and follow the usual drone protocols to ensure it complies with worldwide legislation.