Internet.Org Drone ‘Aquila’ All Set to Fly

In a quest to provide the internet to more than two-third people of the world who do not have internet access, Facebook presents Aquila – the first Internet.org drone, a key element in its recent initiative.

Facebook has joined hands with Samsung, Nokia, Ericsson, Opera Software, Qualcomm, and MediaTek to form ‘internet.org’ whose aim is to provide internet to the 43.4% non-internet users of the world, as told by the  U.N.’s International Telecommunication Union in its report.

With other ongoing major investments on the virtual-reality hardware and networking gear, the social networking giant said that the design and building of the Internet.org drone, which is a high-altitude solar-powered plane was completed in 14 months and whose testing will start later in the year.

Even though Aquila weighs almost equivalent to that of a car, it has got a wingspan of a Boeing 737.  The Internet.org drone is set to fly at an altitude much higher above those of commercial airplanes and weather surveillance systems. Aquila will fly at a height of 60,000 to 90,000 ft during the day and at night, it will fly lower to save its energy since Aquila’s battery will not get charged in the absence of the  sun.

The Internet.org drone, Aquila, is expected to fly for three months without landing.  Data will get transmitted through laser projection and all the small towers and dishes within a range of 50Km on the ground will receive a signal. The signal will then be converted into Wi-Fi or 4G networks through antennas.

Internet.org Drone Working Demonstration

Yael Maguire, the head of the Facebook Connectivity Lab, wrote in a blog post, “We are developing a range of new technologies — including high-altitude aircraft, satellites, free space optics, and terrestrial solutions — to help accelerate the process of bringing connectivity to the unserved and underserved.”

Mr. Maguire wrote that their team has designed optical transceivers that can deliver data up to a speed of 10 Gigabits per second, which is an improvement up to 10X the current state-of art in the industry.

“These technologies are designed to be part of a connectivity solution in suburban and rural communities in a way that will complement terrestrial and satellite technologies for providing affordable broadband access.”

 I’m excited to announce we’ve completed construction of our first full scale aircraft, Aquila, as part of our…

There are still many engineering challenges like generating enough power to support the drone system while airborne and other regulatory issues like radio frequency spectrum and government approval for airspace, left for Facebook to fulfill  its dream.

However, with the latest net neutrality issues in India related to the Internet.org drone, there is still a long way to go before we can see Aquila flying in India. What’s your take on Aquila? Do share in the comments below.

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