Facebook's Aquila Internet Drone Completes First Flight - InformationWeek
IoT
IoT
Data Management // IoT
News
7/22/2016
10:05 AM
50%
50%

Facebook's Aquila Internet Drone Completes First Flight

WiFi takes to the skies in the form of Aquila, a self-piloting Facebook drone with a wingspan greater than that of a Boeing 737. It's another move by companies such as Facebook and Google to deliver internet services through unconventional means.

Facebook F8: AI, Future Of Apps On Display
Facebook F8: AI, Future Of Apps On Display
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

On the heels of its announcement this week for a laser-based solution to routing the wireless web, social media titan Facebook completed the first successful flight of Aquila, the company's solar-powered plane designed to beam the internet to remote parts of the world.

The flight, which took place before dawn in Yuma, Ariz., on June 28, was only meant to last for 30 minutes, but the test went so well that the team decided to keep the plane flying for up for 96 minutes.

The eventual goal is to have a fleet of the drones flying at 60,000 feet, communicating with each other with lasers and staying aloft for months at a time. That duration would allow Facebook to break the record for the longest unmanned aircraft flight.

While Aquila has a wingspan wider than a Boeing 737, it has to weigh as little as possible to stay up for as long as possible. The design team solved the problem by constructing a carbon fiber composite body. This means the drone weighs less than 1,000 pounds.

(Image: Facebook)

(Image: Facebook)

Although the drone is in some ways self-piloting, Aquila relies on a ground crew of about a dozen engineers, pilots, and technicians who direct, maintain, and monitor the aircraft. The team controls the craft through software that allows them to determine heading, altitude, and air speed, or even send Aquila on a GPS-based route.

Aquila's communications payload uses lasers to transfer data, and will be able to aim its beams accurately enough to hit a dime more than 11 miles away while in motion.

"Over the next year we're going to keep testing Aquila -- flying higher and longer, and adding more planes and payloads," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a July 21 blog post. "It's all part of our mission to connect the world and help more of the 4 billion people who are not online access all the opportunities of the internet. As we make progress, we'll continue sharing what we learn."

The company is not alone in its quest to bring WiFi to the sky.

Google is expanding its ambitions for WiFi in the sky with Project SkyBender, which aims to deliver 5G wireless internet from solar-powered drones, according to a January report in The Guardian.

Earlier this week Facebook announced it had developed a laser-powered internet connectivity technology that detects optical communication signals traveling through the air.

[Read more about Facebook's other projects to create high-speed internet access.]

The development, announced on July 19 by the company's Connectivity Lab and published on The Optical Society, indicates there may be a future for license-free communications systems.

The experiment offered data rates of more than 2 gigabits per second (Gbps), but Tobias Tiecke, the leader of the research team, wrote that the new approach could theoretically allow free-space optical data rates of more than 10 Gbps if materials were developed that operate in the infrared part of the spectrum, invisible to human eyes.

The research team plans to move the technology out of the lab and into the real world through the development of a prototype that could eventually lead to a commercial product.

Nathan Eddy is a freelance writer for InformationWeek. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin. View Full Bio

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Charlie Babcock
50%
50%
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
7/22/2016 | 7:08:59 PM
Solar-powered, someday, but not yet
Aquila is designed to be a solar-powered plane but so far its test flights have been based on ground-charged batteries that it carries aloft. I don't think they've built an Aquila with solar cell-covered wings, like those of the Solar Impulse 2. But we know it can be done. Part of the reason battery-powered aircraft are suddenly in vogue is the availability of small, light but powerful aircraft engines running on electricity.
2017 State of IT Report
2017 State of IT Report
In today's technology-driven world, "innovation" has become a basic expectation. IT leaders are tasked with making technical magic, improving customer experience, and boosting the bottom line -- yet often without any increase to the IT budget. How are organizations striking the balance between new initiatives and cost control? Download our report to learn about the biggest challenges and how savvy IT executives are overcoming them.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
Top IT Trends for 2018
As we enter a new year of technology planning, find out about the hot technologies organizations are using to advance their businesses and where the experts say IT is heading.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.
Flash Poll