At the F8 conference in Fort Mason, San Francisco on Thursday, Facebook’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, announced plans to roll out a new piece of hardware.
Codenamed ‘Aquila,’ for the eagle the Greek god Zeuss rode across the sky (really!), the innovative piece of tech Facebook announced on Thursday is a drone designed to beam the internet down to millions of people worldwide,allowing the company to effectively supply its own infrastructure to difficult-to-reach areas.
Aquila has the same wingspan as a 747 but is constructed of ultra-lightweight materials and is mostly wing, meaning it weighs less than a small car.
It’s going to need that light weight. It’s designed to stay in the air for as long as three months at once. The design uses solar power to drive propellers, and will also require sufficient energy to let drones stay in contact with one another across wider areas to supply continuous access to the web.
The drone will connect people below it to the internet via lasers fired from about 90, 000 feet (about 17 miles) above the surface of the earth, where drag is sufficiently low and there is little atmospheric turbulence.
So how soon can you expect to see one of these slow-moving monsters in the skies over your home?
Well,Facebook is cagey about the specifics, but the New York Times notes that commercial deployment ‘may take years,’ though the machines are due to be trialled this year. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg gets further into the details: ‘As part of our Internet.org effort to connect the world, we’ve designed unmanned aircraft that can beam internet access down to people from the sky. Today, I’m excited to share that we’ve successfully completed our first test flight of these aircraft in the UK.’ Zuckerburg went on to explain that: ‘Aircraft like these will help connect the whole world because they can affordably serve the 10% of the world’s population that live in remote communities without existing internet infrastructure.’
The drones are currently under development at a UK company, Ascenta, that Facebook acquired last year. Eventually, the social media giant hopes to be running a fleet of 1, 000 drones, though how it hopes to get the governments of the world to ’like’ the idea of filling their airspace with giant, remote-controlled laser platforms isn’t certain.