Hope for the Remote: Facebook’s Solar-Powered Internet Drone Takes Flight

If you’ve ever visited or lived in a remote area of the world with limited to no Internet access, you know the excessive pains of dial-up speeds and black-hole connection zones. Perhaps, in the not-so-distant past, this may not have seemed like a bad thing- but today having Internet means having access to jobs, to news, to people, to education. The Internet is a living, breathing giant that keeps the world brightly lit with knowledge and communication. Facebook may be only one part of the Internet’s social media boom, but it understands the bigger picture. And Facebook is making the bigger picture happen with its stunning new flying drone, the Aquila, which they intend to use to bring Internet to all the world.

 

The Plane

The Aquila flying plane has the wingspan of a Boeing 737 but weighs less than a third of what a Toyota Prius weighs. Impressed? Try this: the Aquila runs on the same wattage that it takes to power three hairdryers. Not impressed yet? How about this: the Aquila plane is designed with solar panels covering its entire outside surface in order to charge itself. During the day, the Aquila will fly at 90,000 feet, but it will drop to 60,000 at night to not only keep Internet access continuous but also to conserve energy. The drone is built with two layers of lightweight carbon fiber with a layer of foam in between, and is intended to be able to stay aloft for three months at a time.

 

The Test

On June 28th, the Aquila was launched for the first time. The flight lasted three times longer than originally expected, according to Facebook, and went on for a duration of 96 minutes. The Facebook engineering team at Bridgwater has a variety of experts from organizations such as NASA and Boeing, all working eagerly towards seeing a fleet of these Aquila planes taking to the skies in order to provide Internet access to the world. To have such a successful launch was a hugely encouraging development.

 

The Internet

The Aquila delivers Internet by using extremely sophisticated lasers. Lasers on the ground locate the optical head on the Aquila in the air, and then the Aquila hones in on the lasers on the ground. Once the Aquila locks onto the target, it will begin beaming down (no Star Trek reference intended) Internet. Unfortunately, this does mean that a slower connection will probably be the case during rainstorms or cloudy weather. But, hey. Internet is Internet.

 

The Sky’s the Limit

Facebook initially intends to send that Internet to 4 billion people in sub-Saharan Africa without it. After that? The world. With a fleet of these Aquila planes, the sky is literally the limit, and we have to hand it to Facebook- what they’re doing is pretty amazing. The Internet is a map to humanity’s most shallow and most hidden treasures, from the beginning of time up to the current day and beyond. Without it, we are stifled. With it, we are free. Thanks, Facebook. We can’t wait to see the Aquila fleet in action.