Facebook completes first test flights of its solar-powered Aquila internet drone

Aquila Facebook Drone
Credit: Facebook

Up in the sky, look! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a solar-powered internet drone!

It's no Christopher Reeve, but it's still exciting.

Facebook has revealed that it has completed the first successful flight of it's Aquila drone, which it hopes will eventually be used to provide internet access to remote regions of the world. The company, which has been testing a one-fifth scale version of the drone for months, initially hoped to fly the full-sized aircraft for 30 minutes, but far exceeded that goal. 

In IT Blogwatch, we look to the sky.

What exactly is Aquila? Just an unmanned, solar-powered, internet-providing drone from Facebook. Yasmeen Abutaleb shares the important background information:

Facebook...completed a successful test flight of a solar-powered drone that...will help it extend internet connectivity to every corner of the planet.
...
Aquila, Facebook's lightweight, high-altitude aircraft, flew at a few thousand feet for 96 minutes in Yuma, Arizona...The company ultimately hopes to have a fleet of Aquilas that can fly for at least three months at a time at 60,000 feet...and communicate with each other to deliver internet access.

But how exactly with Aquila work? I communicate with lots of things, but I don't deliver internet access. Stephanie Condon fills in the details:

Aquila will use e-band technology to beam connectivity from the drone to receivers on the ground. Facebook...has already lab-tested a laser that can deliver data at 10s of Gbps to a target the size of a dime...more than 10 miles away.
...
During its...test flight, cruising at an altitude of 2,150 feet, Aquila consumed 2,000W of power...At 60,000 feet, it should be able to loiter using about 5,000W of power -- about as much as three hair dryers.

It definitely sounds cool, but what is Facebook's reasoning for these high-flying drones? Facebook's Jay Parikh shares the company's reasoning:

Internet access can offer life-changing opportunities and experiences...but there are still 4 billion people without it...As many as 1.6 billion of those...people live in remote locations with no access to mobile broadband networks, where implementing existing network technologies is so challenging and costly that it will take years to bring everyone affordable access.
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We believe [bringing internet access to remote regions] has never been more important...technologies like Aquila have the potential to bring access, voice and opportunity to billions of people around the world, and do so faster and more cost-effectively than has ever been possible before.

So Facebook is going to bring internet access to the masses, but they're not alone. Alan Boyle tells us what other companies have in store:

Zuckerberg isn’t the only one who envisions a global internet in the air: Google has...its balloon-based Project Loon and its drone-based Project SkyBender. Even...Boeing...is working on a concept for a solar-powered, high-altitude drone that could be used for communication. Meanwhile, SpaceX, OneWeb and Boeing are working on multibillion-dollar satellite internet systems.
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Who’ll win the race to hook up the world wirelessly? The answer...is most definitely up in the air.
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