Facebook has unveiled a solar-powered drone, Aquila, which it says will help bring internet connectivity to the world’s most remote regions.
The company says the aircraft has the same wingspan as a Boeing 737, though it’s also said to be significantly lighter, as it features a carbon fibre frame. It’s designed to operate between 60,000 and 90,000 feet in the air, circling a particular area for up to 90 days at a time.
According to Facebook’s VP of global engineering and infrastructure, Jay Parikh, it will offer internet speeds of 10 gigabits per second, beaming data down to the ground.
"Our goal is to accelerate the development of a new set of technologies that can drastically change the economics of deploying internet infrastructure," he said.
"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."
"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."
Aquila was developed by Facebook’s UK-based aerospace team, and will be tested in the US later this year. There’s no word yet on when the company plans to officially roll it out.
It represents the latest major development in its Internet.org project, an initiative created with the intention of bringing internet access to every person on the planet.
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However, not everybody’s impressed.
Internet.org has attracted criticism because it only provides free access to a select group of websites and services, including Facebook. The open web, meanwhile, remains off limits.