Facebook is learning to fly

Facebook plans to establish a system of drones, planes and satellites to „beam internet to people from the sky“, as Mark Zuckerberg announced on Thursday. By doing so, the social network hopes to connect even suburban and less-developed areas of the world to the web. In honour of this occasion a research group called „Connectivity Lab“ was founded.

Several leading experts in aerospace and communication technology have been recruited, including members from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, Ames Research Center and key members from the British-based company Ascenta. Ascenta has created early versions of Zephyr, which has become the world’s longest flying drone thanks to its use of solar technology.

Laser beams and solar-powered drones

The unmanned aircrafts will fly at a height of approximately 20 kilometers in order to connect devices on the ground with the internet. Lasers will be used to connect passing satellites with each other. Together with other tech companies, Facebook wants to put its plans into effect using initiative internet.org.

There have been talks about acquiring Titan Aerospace earlier this year, whose unmanned aeroplanes can stay in the air for up to five years. Like Zephyr, they are solar-powered.

The end of Facebook’s problems?

If Facebook achieves its goal with the drone project, it may find the solution for the recent growth issues of the social network. Facebook and internet.org estimate that one third of the world’s population are still without access to the internet. The campaign aims to change this and bring the web to rural and poorer areas of the planet. The developing world is said to be a chief target.

The project has the potential to become quite expensive, as some leading connectivity companies like Deutsche Telekom stated at the MWC 2014 earlier this year. Facebook wants to provide basic internet services free of charge or on a very cheap basis. This could include homepages like Wikipedia, services like weather forecasts and, of course, Facebook. There are alternatives on the market though. Google’s Project Loon for instance is competing to increase connectivity with hot-air balloons instead of drones. 

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