A Portuguese company that wants to use drones to provide internet access to offline areas of the world has completed its first test flight. Quarkson plans to use solar-powered SkyOrbiter drones that will stay airborne for weeks, months or even years at a time and will fly at altitudes of up to 22,000 m (72,000 ft).
The test flight took place on April 2 at an undisclosed location. The drone was equipped with Wi-Fi-transmitting equipment that can provide internet access to local users on the ground via a patch antenna that receives the signal.
The drone tested was a small version of those planned for eventual use with a wingspan of 5 m (16 ft). It was flown within line of sight up to an altitude of 330 ft (100 m) and successfully relayed a Wi-Fi signal to the ground. Quarkson founder and CEO Miguel Angelo Martins da Silva says the test has provided proof of the concept's viability.
One of Quarkson's larger SkyOrbiter LA25 drones with a wingspan of 22 m (72 ft) has reportedly already been built, but da Silva says it could not be tested due to opposition by the Portuguese government.
As a result, da Silva says the test was performed under poor conditions using a small airstrip. Nonetheless, he says, the team was able to retrieve telemetry and determine additional ways to optimize the prototype models.
The drones are designed to be fully autonomous with an energy management system, autopilot and ground control software and long range communications working on different frequencies. Quarkson says they will be capable of transmitting via LTE or W-iFi on the unlicensed spectrum or via Wi-Fi, LTE, 3G or 2G via a carrier on the licensed spectrum.
da Silva says the organization is producing prototypes at a rate of one every 2 months, except for the SkyOrbiter LA25 that took a year to construct. He says that with the correct investment, mass production could begin within 4-6 months.
Quarkson will present its solar-powered drones to the public at the Castelo Branco Maiden Flight SkyOrbiter Constellation Challenge on April 30 and to "the world's leading tech investors" in Las Vegas on May 5, with da Silva warning that the "project can only survive if we relocate in full or partially to another country."
The video below shows the first test flight of the SkyOrbiter drone.