What is the Aquila Facebook Drone?

By Ashley Watters, Abshier House, Abshier House

The Aquila Drone is Facebook’s attempt to bring the internet to remote areas of the world that lack data connectivity. This initiative, by the social media giant, intends to use a specialized drone that runs on solar power. The drone is designed to hover above areas, bringing a web connection to those without it.

The Aquila drone may be the answer to connecting the remainder of the world to the web. [Credit: Im

Credit: Image courtesy of info.internet.org
The Aquila drone may be the answer to connecting the remainder of the world to the web.

An important effort in the Internet.org campaign, the Aquila drone is already a reality. The development team has completed the construction of one full-sized drone, as well as additional smaller versions for testing purposes. Test flights are currently scheduled for the second half of 2016.

The drone is being developed by a project extension of Facebook’s Internet.org campaign, the Connectivity Lab. The idea here is that the people involved with the Connectivity Lab will develop technologies capable of making worldwide internet access possible. Admittedly, this is a grand challenge, but Facebook seems undaunted. Using a revolutionary technology created from an exceedingly lightweight material and a nearly self-sustainable power source, this seemingly futuristic technology is Facebook’s answer to a tough problem.

Check here to read more about the Connectivity Lab and developments on the Aquila project.

The prototype weighs between 880 and 1,000 lbs. and is made of carbon fiber. The giant V-shaped drone has the wingspan similar to that of a commercial Boeing 737, approximately 138 feet wide. The aircraft is intended to fly at altitudes of 60,000 to 90,000 feet. Facebook claims the drone will be capable of continuous flight for approximately three months. Unlike a typical aircraft, the drones will be launched via helium balloons. This helps reduce the weight of the hardware needed for launching on the device itself.

Facebook is using lasers, yes lasers, to connect the world to the internet. The idea for using drones to improve connectivity involves terminals positioned along the ground. The purpose of the lasers is to connect the drones in the sky to form a network, of sorts. According to Jay Parikh, VP of Global Engineering and Infrastructure, “When finished, our laser communications system can be used to connect our aircraft with each other and with the ground, making it possible to create a stratospheric network that can extend to even the remotest regions of the world.” The drones will connect users to the web via 4G LTE or Wi-Fi.

It’s not time to celebrate just yet. There are still some requirements for Facebook’s drone project that have yet to be resolved. For example, the current record for an unmanned drone sustaining flight is about two weeks. This is a far cry from Facebook’s goal of 90 days. Additionally, there is some work that needs to be done with the lasers. The goal is for the lasers to function as a communication network, tying together a mass of drones over a targeted area. In order to accomplish this, the lasers will need to be incredibly accurate, beaming a signal from each autonomous craft to the next over lengthy distances.

This project is not without controversy. Internet.org has received a fair amount of negative criticism. The internet connection will only provide access to partnered services, not an open connection to the internet. This limited access has been criticized as a violation of net neutrality, promoting only selected services.

A lofty challenge indeed, however, Facebook is forging ahead and they believe they have the solution. The Connectivity Lab is currently testing the technology that they believe will provide a solution to this problem.

In any case, it seems that internet connectivity will soon be a reality for those without it.