Facebook’s mission was clear: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his team planned to develop a solar-powered plane that was capable of flying at high altitudes. Their hope is that one day, the internet drone will deliver internet connectivity to the entire world, especially to underserved countries. It may sound like a dream, but as of last month, Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook team sent the internet drone, named Aquila, out for its first flight.
The company operated in secret for most of the drone project, but Zuckerberg made it public knowledge that he had a goal to bring the internet connectivity to underserved countries. People assumed that Zuckerberg would donate billions of dollars to the cause, but what no one expected was an internet drone.
The drone project is inspired by Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropic urge to service the world through innovative technology. In a recent press release, Jay Parikh, Facebook’s head of engineering and infrastructure, explained just how important internet connectivity is to the world and how many people go without it.
“Internet access can offer life-changing opportunities and experiences to all of us, but there are still 4 billion people without it. That’s 60% of the global population. As many as 1.6 billion of those unconnected people live in remote locations with no access to mobile broadband networks, where implementing existing network technologies is so challenging and costly that it will take years to bring everyone affordable access. As part of our commitment to Internet.org, we formed the Facebook Connectivity Lab to build new technologies — including aircraft, satellites, and wireless communications systems — to help solve this problem more quickly.”
Phases of the Internet Drone
Facebook’s Aquila project has been in the works for years now. This is because, according to Parikh, the company wanted to test the aircraft to be sure that it could actually make a trip around the world. And it all began with testing a laser drone over skies in the United Kingdom.
What made the U.K. voyage of Facebook’s drones special was that, according to Zuckerberg, they had a wingspan larger than a Boeing 737, but building them was still, somehow, cost-effective and environment-friendly.
The following year, Facebook gave the drone its official name, Aquila, and set goals to have the drones up for sale by the beginning of 2016. Unfortunately, the company has not successfully reached that goal, but Facebook does report that the first full flight of Aquila was a success.
Made to Last
Aquila is a durable, solar-powered aircraft that Facebook is very confident can travel worldwide, distributing the internet to underserved areas. Now that Aquila has taken its first flight, the next steps will get Facebook that much closer to its desired world voyage.
Jay Parikh recently explained, “This first functional check was a low-altitude flight, and it was so successful that we ended up flying Aquila for more than 90 minutes — three times longer than originally planned. We were able to verify several performance models and components, including aerodynamics, batteries, control systems, and crew training. In our next tests, we will fly Aquila faster, higher and longer, eventually taking it above 60,000 feet. Each test will help us learn and move faster toward our goal.”
Hope for Change
With some many people around the world who have limited or no internet access, Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook colleagues believe that the world needs to change. They believe that having access to the internet can improve communities and governments, ultimately creating a better world. Jay Parikh ended his statement by restating the purpose behind Facebook’s internet drones.
“New technologies like Aquila have the potential to bring access, voice and opportunity to billions of people around the world, and do so faster and more cost-effectively than has ever been possible before.”
[Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]