UPDATED 23:28 EST / JUNE 26 2018

EMERGING TECH

Facebook formally disbands its little-known drone development division

Facebook Inc. has formally disbanded its little-known drone development division, a year after anything was last heard about it.

The program, announced back in 2014, was intended by Facebook to bring the internet to the “billions of people across the globe who don’t have access” via solar-powered drones that could remain aloft for 90 days without landing.

Two years later the drones, named Aquila, took to the air. The first flight in June 2016 initially was said to have been successful until it later came to light, after the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board launched an inquiry in November that year, that Facebook failed to mention that the drone had crashed on landing. The NTSB later ruled that the crash had been the result of a software failure and a wind gust.

A second test flight of an Aquila drone, which has a wingspan roughly equivalent to a Boeing 737 and is designed to be able to fly at altitudes of 60,000 to 90,000 feet, was successful in June 2017. But since then, the program has dropped off the radar.

In a post on the Facebook Code blog, Yael Maguire, director of engineering, said that the decision had been made in part because other companies entered the field with alternative solutions for internet access now available.

Although Facebook will no longer be building drones, the company will remain involved in developing some of the technology. Maguire said that “going forward, we’ll continue to work with partners like Airbus on high-altitude platform station connectivity generally and on the other technologies needed to make this system work, like flight control computers and high-density batteries.”

Insider reported separately that as part of the shutdown of the program, Facebook has closed its drone development center in the U.K. and has laid off 16 employees who had been working on the program.

Facebook is not the only large company of note with a drone program intended to deliver internet access to remote areas shut down. Google LLC closed its Titan drone division and related Project Skybender in January 2017.

Image: Facebook

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