Drones

Facebook to start testing internet beaming drones in 2015

Facebook to start testing inte...
Facebook hopes to begin testing its solar-powered UAVs in 2015, with the ultimate aim of delivering worldwide internet
Facebook hopes to begin testing its solar-powered UAVs in 2015, with the ultimate aim of delivering worldwide internet
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Facebook hopes to begin testing its solar-powered UAVs in 2015, with the ultimate aim of delivering worldwide internet
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Facebook hopes to begin testing its solar-powered UAVs in 2015, with the ultimate aim of delivering worldwide internet
Project Loon would entail a network of balloons around 20 km (12.4 mi) above the surface of the Earth
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Project Loon would entail a network of balloons around 20 km (12.4 mi) above the surface of the Earth
Facebook's solar-powered UAVs would be around the size of a commercial aircraft
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Facebook's solar-powered UAVs would be around the size of a commercial aircraft
Project Loon would entail a network of balloons around 20 km (12.4 mi) above the surface of the Earth
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Project Loon would entail a network of balloons around 20 km (12.4 mi) above the surface of the Earth
Fitted with solar panels, Google's balloons when inflated measure 15 x 12 m (49 x 39 ft) and carry a set of communication instruments in a box underneath
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Fitted with solar panels, Google's balloons when inflated measure 15 x 12 m (49 x 39 ft) and carry a set of communication instruments in a box underneath
Facebook hopes to begin testing its solar-powered UAVs in 2015, with the ultimate aim of delivering worldwide internet
6/10
Facebook hopes to begin testing its solar-powered UAVs in 2015, with the ultimate aim of delivering worldwide internet
Project Loon would entail a network of balloons around 20 km (12.4 mi) above the surface of the Earth
7/10
Project Loon would entail a network of balloons around 20 km (12.4 mi) above the surface of the Earth
Facebook's solar-powered UAVs would be around the size of a commercial aircraft
8/10
Facebook's solar-powered UAVs would be around the size of a commercial aircraft
Project Loon would entail a network of balloons around 20 km (12.4 mi) above the surface of the Earth
9/10
Project Loon would entail a network of balloons around 20 km (12.4 mi) above the surface of the Earth
Fitted with solar panels, Google's balloons when inflated measure 15 x 12 m (49 x 39 ft) and carry a set of communication instruments in a box underneath
10/10
Fitted with solar panels, Google's balloons when inflated measure 15 x 12 m (49 x 39 ft) and carry a set of communication instruments in a box underneath

There was an understandable amount of skepticism when Amazon announced its grand plans for delivery drones last year. But if the last twelve months are any indication, Jeff Bezos and his fellow tech heavyweights are actually kinda serious about the potential of unmanned aerial vehicles. Speaking at the Social Good Summit in New York on Monday, engineering director at Facebook Connectivity Lab, Yael Maguire, has further detailed the company's vision of internet-carrying drones, with plans to begin testing in 2015.

Mark Zuckerberg unveiled Facebook's Connectivity Lab and its partnership with the Internet.org project in March this year. The initiative ultimately seeks to use solar-powered UAVs to beam internet down to the two thirds of the global population who aren't yet connected. But to achieve this, Facebook's Connectivity Lab and other Internet.org partners must first develop solar-powered aircraft with the ability to fly at high altitudes for long periods of time.

There was word of Facebook snapping up Titan Aerospace, a drone company whose unmanned aerial vehicles are designed to fly for five years at a time. These plans were short-lived, however, with Google reportedly topping Facebook's offer and leading Zuckerberg to instead acquire Ascenta, a UK-based company also working away at solar-powered UAVs. With these tech giants jostling for position, Facebook has been tight-lipped on its progress so far.

Maguire, in conversation with Mashable CEO Pete Cashmore, likened the vehicles to planes rather than drones, a word that does carry some negative connotations. He says the aircraft would be around the size of a commercial aircraft – about six or seven times the length of a Toyota Prius, while weighing the same as just four tires.

"In order for us to fly these planes — unmanned planes that have to fly for months, or perhaps years at a time — we actually have to fly above the weather, above all airspace," Maguire said. "That's between 60,000 and 90,000 feet. Routinely, planes don't fly there, and certainly not drones."

These altitudes would put Facebook's UAVs in the same space as Google's Project Loon, a fleet of internet-enabled balloons also designed to provide connectivity to remote areas. Coincidentally, whether it be the all-embracing forces of technological advancement or a timely PR move, head of the Google X research lab Astro Teller announced today that the Loon balloons will also take to the skies within the next year.

Project Loon would entail a network of balloons around 20 km (12.4 mi) above the surface of the Earth
Project Loon would entail a network of balloons around 20 km (12.4 mi) above the surface of the Earth

Project Loon would entail a network of balloons around 20 km (12.4 mi) above the surface of the Earth. Fitted with solar panels, the balloons when inflated measure 15 x 12 m (49 x 39 ft) and carry a set of communication instruments in a box underneath. Google has tested the technology in pilot programs in New Zealand, California and Brazil and now, according to Teller, should soon have enough balloons in the air to demonstrate that the idea is feasible.

"In the next year or so we should have a semi-permanent ring of balloons somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere," he claimed, speaking today at MIT Technology Review's EmTech conference.

So whether unmanned aircraft or floating networks hold the key to a worldwide internet, it's more than just Google's high-tech balloons that are starting to heat up. The value of bringing billions of new users online is plain to see, and means there's plenty at stake for all concerned. As for when this might actually occur, Maguire is hopeful that following testing in 2015, Facebook's drone-delivered internet could become a reality in three to five years.

Source: Internet.org via Mashable

5 comments
Mel Tisdale
I just hope that all these autonomous aircraft are hardened against the EMP generated by solar flares. Another Carrington event and we could have them falling out of the sky like confetti. It will be bad enough if the various fleets of satellites are put out of commission (think GPS and all the systems that rely on it for a start - with no back-up in many instances), at least they will stay in orbit. But a "commercial jet" sized aircraft going into a nose-dive from 90,000 feet will give anyone more than a headache if it lands on them.
Scraphound
AeroVironment is way ahead of the game on this one.
Andrew Meulenberg
Over twenty years ago, while at COMSAT Labs, I presented this concept to both the army and navy as a means of high-bandwidth battlefield communications and world-wide satellite links to and from the front line. They were politely interested, but not sufficiently to fund even further exploratory work. This was despite CNN having better communications links during the Gulf War (1990-91) than did the US military. Perhaps they did not believe that the required UAV and communications capabilities were available or could be developed in a reasonable time frame (they were). Perhaps they were just too heavily invested in their existing systems. Perhaps they were working on these concepts 'in-house'. This was neither the first nor the last time that the best military minds were far surpassed by those in the commercial arena.
LaurentP
Those drones just like the balloons of the loon Project will require many adjustements before being operational. Nevermind maintenance, potential failures and so on. As such, the internet.org and loon projects are on the same line. The projects they are working on now won't be operational before a while when the need to get a mobile internet access is growing fast in all arts of the planet and is an issue for today, not for tomorrow. Lighter and easier to monitor solutions exist, such as mobile applications complementary to 3 or 4G and allowing a connection continuity no matter the data network. To boot if they operate on Android they touch about 80% of global smartphone users...
StWils
All of the above comments have great merit but these various ideas are still the cheapest, best, and nearest to reality ideas for spreading global communication. Literally, these high flying systems will be out of the reach of third world governments and yet will have high availability. In Afghanistan the Taliban routinely demands that mobile service providers turn off their towers when told to do so. They do as told because to refuse will first have their equipment destroyed and next they and their families would be destroyed. Airborne high altitude communications is literally the best way to break the madrassas and the mullahs. Overall, these systems coupled with ground level systems need to from a mesh network that cannot be defeated.