Drones

Facebook cancels development of Aquila internet-beaming drone

The prototype Aquila drone on one of its two test flights
The prototype Aquila drone on one of its two test flights
View 2 Images
The prototype Aquila drone on one of its two test flights
1/2
The prototype Aquila drone on one of its two test flights
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
2/2
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 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.

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
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

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.

Source: Facebook via The Register

5 comments
zr2s10
I always thought Project Loon was a better idea anyway. Stationary positions would be more reliable, and be easier than trying to coordinate flight patterns with other aircraft. Balloons crash less violently into ground objects as well.
fb36
IMHO, just something can be done technically, does not mean, it would be really practical to do! And I think that includes trying to provide regional/global internet service using airplanes, drones, balloons, kites etc!
KrisMclean
They should stick with providing a platform for getting crooks elected & leave the loitering tech to the pros http://www.solar-flight.com/projects/sunstar/
Daishi
In the 2014 article I had the first post and said "It's good that they have money to burn because I think they are underestimating the difficulty of doing this. I don't really know what all their intentions are but I highly doubt its as simple as their mission statement." and I made about a 5 page rant about why I thought this would be vapoware. Planes and balloons are just really large antennas. They are really really large cells at a time when the world is moving to smaller cells. It makes some sense for providing connectivity in places where there is none but it's not a replacement for places that already have infrastructure.
Edward Vix
Airbus's OneWeb using a constellation of smallsats should be operational by 2022 and will be far superior to Facebook's stopgap project.