Aquila, Facebook's internet-beaming drone, is complete and ready for testing.
Jay Parikh, VP of Global Engineering and Infrastructure, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg just pulled the cover off the device, which is carbon-fiber framed and solar-powered. Aquila has the wingspan of a 737, but weighs only as much as a Prius. Facebook's plan is to drop it via ballon, and once deployed it will fly around an area for up to 90 days "beaming connectivity down to people from an altitude of 60,000 to 90,000 feet."
It's part of the company's Internet.org effort, which aims to, among other things, provide internet and internet services to underserved communities.
"This effort is important because 10% of the world’s population lives in areas without existing internet infrastructure. To affordably connect everyone, we need to build completely new technologies," says Zuckerberg. "Using aircraft to connect communities using lasers might seem like science fiction. But science fiction is often just science before its time. Over the coming months, we will test these systems in the real world and continue refining them so we can turn their promise into reality."
Drones aren't the only thing Facebook's unveiling today. They're also talking lasers:
Our laser communications team in Woodland Hills, California, has achieved a significant performance breakthrough. They’ve designed and lab-tested a laser that can deliver data at 10s of Gb per second — approximately 10x faster than the previous state-of-the-art in the industry — to a target the size of a dime from more than 10 miles away. We are now starting to test these lasers in real-world conditions. When finished, our laser communications system can be used to connect our aircraft with each other and with the ground, making it possible to create a stratospheric network that can extend to even the remotest regions of the world.
"Our goal is to accelerate the development of a new set of technologies that can drastically change the economics of deploying internet infrastructure. We are exploring a number of different approaches to this challenge, including aircraft, satellites and terrestrial solutions. Our intention is not to build networks and then operate them ourselves, but rather to quickly advance the state of these technologies to the point that they become viable solutions for operators and other partners to deploy," says Parikh.
Facebook's internet.org initiative has drawn some concerns over net neutrality, but Facebook's efforts to beam actual internet with drones and lasers should be met with a little less criticism. A little.