It was back in 2014 that Facebook first announced its Aquila program, in which high-altitude solar-powered autonomous drones would be used to provide developing countries with broadband internet coverage. This Tuesday, however, the company announced that it is cancelling the program.
Facebook did get as far as building a functional full-size prototype aircraft, which performed two test flights – the first one of those ended in a crash landing, but the second was completely successful.
Built at the company's facilities in Bridgwater, UK, the Aquila drone features four propellers, a carbon fiber frame and wings, an array of solar panels, and a 42-m (138-ft) wingspan – which is greater than that of a Boeing 737 – yet it weighs less than a car. It was designed to fly at altitudes between 60,000 and 90,000 ft (18,200 and 27,400 m) for up to 90 days at a time.
Using a laser-based communications system, it would direct a ground-based internet signal to a mother aircraft, which would then daisy-chain the connection to other drones gliding around the area.
In a June 27th blog post, however, Facebook stated the following:
"As we've worked on these efforts, it's been exciting to see leading companies in the aerospace industry start investing in this technology too — including the design and construction of new high-altitude aircraft. Given these developments, we've decided not to design or build our own aircraft any longer, and to close our facility in Bridgwater. Going forward, we'll continue to work with partners like Airbus on HAPS [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."
A somewhat similar project, Google's Project Loon, continues to develop its system of using high-altitude balloons to bring internet connectivity to remote regions.
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