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Facebook to Launch Solar-Powered Drones for Internet Connectivity


facebook-solara-50To provide online connectivity to remote and inaccessible locations, Facebook is developing Internet-beaming drones with an aim of bringing 5 Billion people without internet access online. India could be the first Country where Facebook deploys them. Last month, the first test flight of the drone was successfully completed in UK.

To Connect the world from the sky, Facebook partnered with Samsung, MediaTek, Qualcomm, Nokia, Opera and Ericsson and launched the non-profit Internet.org Initiative in 2013. To improve the aerial internet connectivity, Facebook planned to launch drones that beam internet. Facebook’s Connectivity lab is working on this pilot project. They codenamed the drone as Aquila. The team consists of experts in aerospace and communications technology like NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and Ames Research Center. The key team of a small UK-based company, Ascenta -whose founders created early versions of Zephyr, which became the world’s longest flying solar-powered unmanned aircraft- is also joining this project.

The drones would fly at a height of 60,000 to 90,000 feet above the ground where they wouldn’t be affected by the weather. At this height, which is far above the commercial jetliners, they would be almost invisible.

Yael Maguire, Facebook Connectivity Lab’s engineering director said that the drones would be solar powered to provide continuous Wi-Fi coverage. ‘At this altitude, a drone can broadcast a powerful signal that covers a city-sized area of territory with a medium population density. This is also close to the lowest altitude for unregulated airspace, and a layer in the atmosphere that has very stable weather conditions and low wind speeds,’ Internet.org has said in a press release. ‘This means an aircraft can easily cruise and conserve power, while generating power through its solar panels during the day to store in its batteries for overnight use,’ It explained.

‘The final design will have a wingspan greater than a Boeing 737 but will weigh less than a car. It will be powered by solar panels on its wings and it will be able to stay at altitudes of more than 60,000 feet for months at a time. 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,’ Mark Zuckerberg had written in his Facebook post on March 26.

Tech2 reports – Right now, there’s a ‘one pilot per plane’ rule, but Facebook Connectivity Lab’s Yael Maguiree has said they need a regulatory environment that’s open to one pilot managing up to 100 of these solar-powered planes.

Internet.org is working on Free Space Optical Communication (FSO) to transmit data using invisible infrared laser beams. ‘The lasers used in FSO systems provide extremely high bandwidths and capacity, on par with terrestrial fiber optic networks, but they also consume much less power than the microwave systems,’ claims Internet.org.

Last October the first Internet.org summit was held at New Delhi, India. With over 100 million users, India is the second biggest market for Facebook and it is eyeing at one Billion users from the country. The Prime Minister of India, Sri Narendra Modi’s Digital India programme has excited the Facebook CEO to start the drone project from India and get more Indians online. Mark Zuckerberg said “India is forward-looking when it comes to embracing education, science and research and technology. Some of the best engineers in the world come out of here. I could start Facebook out of a dorm in Harvard because connectivity wasn’t an issue. When a billion people are offline, the world is being robbed of their creativity and ideas.” He has also expressed his willingness to setup a server in India to handle the data transmitted through the drones. Maybe we can expect these drones to hover in sky by 2018.


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