Mark Zuckerberg’s dream of beaming the internet to the nooks and crannies of the world is gradually becoming a reality. Called Project Aquila, the move will enable Facebook beam the internet to millions of people in remote areas. It involves a solar-powered aircraft that will fly over remote areas for months.
Aquila, which is an unmanned aircraft, has the wingspan of a Boeing 737 and stayed airborne for 90 minutes and performed to expectations during test flight conducted by Facebook’s team of engineers. However, its landing was not that smooth as its fragile structure suffered a bit of damage while landing in a stony field a few meters off the runway, reports the BBC.
Aquila is a mammoth project, but Facebook seems undaunted considering how things have progressed in the last couple of months. Facebook made its intentions clear when two years ago, it bought over Ascenta, a small British business that specializes in solar-powered drones. That acquisition saw Andy Cox, Ascenta’s owner remain a part of the entire project, and is in fact the engineer running Project Aquila.
When operational, Aquila drones will rely on solar power to fly at altitudes of between 60,000 to 90,000 feet for up to 90 days. The drones will be connected using a laser system known as free-space optics, per Fast Company. In terms of power consumption, the drones will consume 5,000 watts, which is about the same amount of power as three hair dryers.
The flight [the first flight-test took off on June 28] “was our first ‘functional check,’ designed to verify our operational models and overall aircraft design,” Facebook head of engineering and infrastructure Jay Parikh wrote in a blog post. “To prove out the full capacity of the design, we will push Aquila to the limits in a lengthy series of tests in the coming months and years. Failures are expected and sometimes even planned; we learn more when we push the plane to the brink.”
Surely Aquila is work in progress as much work still has to be done to make Facebook’s dream of internet for all a reality. Keeping drones in the air for three months at a time is no mean feat, and Parikh and his team are well aware of this.
“This will require significant advancements in science and engineering to achieve,” he wrote. “It will also require us to work closely with operators, governments, and other partners to deploy these aircraft in the regions where they’ll be most effective.”
While Zuckerberg’s dreams seem genuine from the look of things, it remained to be seen if his idea will be embraced by governments and internet providers in targeted countries. Notably, India rejected Facebook’s Free Basics project, which was to give citizens limited, free web access via their mobile phones. India’s reason was based on the fear that the project would make Facebook more powerful than it already is.
Got something on your mind to say or add to this story? Share it in the comments section.