Facebook wants to use Aquila drones to beam internet access

Facebook is in the early stages of plans to help spread high-speed internet access to people around the world who currently live without it, aided by a fleet of solar-powered drones.

Planned fleet of 1,000 solar-powered drones would fly for 3 months at a time

Facebook has unveiled its plans to beam down internet access to parts of the world without mobile access, aided by a fleet of solar-powered drones. (Mark Zuckerberg/Facebook)

A fleet of solar-powered drones could help provide high-speed internet to people around the world who currently live without it, Facebook says of a project in development.

The company's chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer unveiled the plans during a keynote speech on Thursday at the F8 conference in San Francisco.

The drones, code-named Aquila, have a wingspan about as wide as a Boeing 767, yet weigh about as much as a compact car. From an altitude of 18,000 to 27,000 metres, the drones are designed to beam down internet connectivity to regions of the world where wireless internet access is unavailable, while staying in the air for about three months at a time.

"Today, I'm excited to share that we've successfully completed our first test flight of these aircraft in the U.K.," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a post on Thursday, paired with a photo of an early prototype drone soaring over Palo Alto, Calif. Test flights are set to continue in the summer.

In early stages of development

The drones are currently being developed by Ascenta, a U.K.-based company that Facebook acquired in 2014.

Despite Facebook's obvious enthusiasm for the project, it's still in the early stages of development. The social media giant told the New York Times it hopes to have a fleet of 1,000 drones, but it will probably be years before it becomes a reality. And that's to say nothing of the red tape Facebook would have to manoeuvre to get a fleet of remotely controlled aircraft in the skies around the world.

The Aquila project is part of Facebook's initiative, which it says aims to extend internet access to people around the world who live outside of mobile networks.

"Aircraft like these will help connect the whole world, because they can affordably serve the 10 per cent of the world's population that live in remote communities without existing internet infrastructure," wrote Zuckerberg.


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