Facebook’s solar-powered internet drone takes its first flight
It has been nearly one year since Facebook first unveiled Aquila, a long duration, solar-powered drone that is capable of beaming down internet access to hard to reach areas that lack their own networks. Today, Facebook announced that it has successfully completed Aquila’s first test flight, bringing the company one step closer to its goal of getting the entire world online (and onto Facebook).
With a wingspan roughly equivalent to a Boeing 737, Aquila is designed to be able to fly at altitudes of around 60,000 to 90,000 feet for up to 90 days without ever landing, but Facebook says it was a bit cautious with the drone’s first ever flight, keeping it at low altitude for only 90 minutes.
“We’re encouraged by this first successful flight, but we have a lot of work ahead of us,” Jay Parikh, Global Head of Engineering and Infrastructure at Facebook, said in a blog post.
“In fact, to reach our goal of being able to fly over a remote region and deliver connectivity for up to three months at time, we will need to break the world record for solar-powered unmanned flight, which currently stands at two weeks. This will require significant advancements in science and engineering to achieve. It will also require us to work closely with operators, governments and other partners to deploy these aircraft in the regions where they’ll be most effective.”
According to Parikh, Aquila is already incredibly energy efficient, consuming only 5,000 watts at cruising speed, which he says is “the same amount as three hair dryers, or a high-end microwave.”
Aquila is part of Facebook’s Connectivity Labs project, whose goal is to develop new technologies to deliver internet access to the more than 4 billion people who live without it. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has restated this mission again and again, most recently in the company’s annual stockholder meeting.
Zuckerberg said at the time, “We think that if this is something we invest in as a company, it will not only be very good for the world and for all these folks who will get access to all of the opportunities of the internet, but over the long term will be valuable for our business as well because we will also be able to address and build a larger community.”
Images courtesy of Facebook
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