Drones and satellites will soar above the earth under Facebook’s plan to bring Internet connectivity to remote corners of the globe.
At the F8 conference Thursday, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer revealed images of the company’s first such product: the Aquila, a solar-powered drone with the mass of a small car and a wingspan wider than that of a 737 jetliner.
Facebook acquired five employees from drone startup Ascenta last March. The team built the Zephyr—a drone that could fly for two weeks on solar power alone. With its distinctive U-shape, the Aquila appears to be a direct descendant.
The drone’s development is managed by Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, a part of the company’s Internet.org initiative, which plans to bring Internet connectivity to the several billion people in the world who have never had access. On stage, Schroepfer described the project as an answer to simple economics: Companies spend billions wiring cities, but can’t expect the same return on investment in rural areas. As a result, people in remote regions rely on either limited options or none at all.
“You have to have satellites, drones and other things that don’t require the massive investments in terrestrial infrastructure in order to provide internet access for this world,” Schroepfer said.
Photos by Signe Brewster and Owen Thomas for ReadWrite