Facebook Drone Takes Test Flight, Hopes to Bring Internet to Remote Populations

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60% of the global population does not have access to the internet. More than 1.5 billion people live in remote locations with no access to mobile broadband networks.

As part of a commitment to Internet.org, Facebook formed the Connectivity Lab to build new technologies to address this issue. And today Connectivity Lab announced a milestone in this work: the first full-scale test flight of Aquila, the company’s high-altitude unmanned aircraft.

Aquila is a solar-powered airplane Facebook wants to use to bring affordable internet to hundreds of millions of people in the hardest-to-reach places. When complete, Aquila will be able to circle a region up to 60 miles in diameter, beaming connectivity down from an altitude of more than 60,000 feet using laser communications and millimeter wave systems. Aquila can fly for up to three months at a time. The aircraft has the wingspan of an airliner but consumes only 5,000 watts—the same amount as a microwave.

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“This test flight was designed to verify our operational models and overall aircraft design,” says Facebook. “We were able to verify several performance models and components, including aerodynamics, batteries, control systems, and crew training. In our next tests, we will fly Aquila faster, higher and longer, eventually taking it above 60,000 feet. Each test will help us learn and move faster toward our goal.”

To reach the goal of being able to fly over a remote region and deliver connectivity for up to three months at time, Facebook will need to break the world record for solar-powered unmanned flight, which currently stands at two weeks. This will require “significant advancements in science and engineering to achieve,” Facebook admits.

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