Move over, Elon Musk, you’ve got company- make that competition in the endeavor to cover the earth with Internet signals from the sky. While Musk would do so with orbiting satellites from space as posted here last month, Facebook is pioneering a more earthbound yet potentially as effective a system using drones.Google, in its own attempt to blanket the earth with signals, is pioneering balloon technology. FB has announced this past week that it has built the first unmanned drone and simultaneously discovered a way to increase its laser capacity to beam data to the ground. This laser technology breakthrough is impressive in its own right as it will enable data to be transmitted at roughly 10 times as fast as allowed by previous technologies. ’’We have completed plane No. 1,” said FB’s vice president for global engineering, Jay Parikh.
Solar-Powered Laser Drones by Facebook – Coming to Skies Near Your
A contingent of British engineers has developed a solar-powered drone, known as Aquila after more than a year of tinkering and testing. Weighing less than half a ton, the vehicle is now ready for upper atmosphere trials. It is hoped that the tests, probably to be conducted in the U.S., will pave the way to connect billions of new users to the social media platform- potential users presently far away from cell towers and fiber optic cables.. This would include combining phone subscriptions with free access to FB through its much- maligned Internet.org app.
FYI, there are many reluctant to laud the app because it may give FB an unfair competitive advantage. Some even characterize it as monopolistic and anti- net neutrality. Be that as it may, it should not detract from FB’s latest triumph. In the spirit of cooperation, it intends to share the technology with partners including telecommunications companies, aircraft manufacturers and perhaps even governments to smooth the construction and introduction of the drones.
FB’s plan also incorporates the use of balloons which would initially lift the vehicles to lofty altitudes not interfering with commercial airliners and unaffected by weather patterns. They would communicate with satellites orbiting even higher up. But lest we get ahead of ourselves and too excited, it should be said that equipping the drones with long- lasting battery life is proving problematic and has prompted FB to sponsor competitions among teams to find a solution. Aside from the battery issues, FB wants the lasers to be able to transmit data to a moving receiver the size of a small coin from a distance of 11 miles.
In sponsoring an open team competition to make the drone technology a reality, FB hopes to avoid criticism of monopolistic corporate behavior but perhaps more importantly aims to capitalize on the technology race by scarfing up the now newly public information at little or no cost. In that regard, it would be similar to an open-source software project whereby improvements are not proprietary but shared by the digital community. They will explore all avenues to make the drones operational faster.
’’Getting people to adopt the Internet faster is our end goal,” Parikh said. ’’ If this gets used by car companies, and that comes back to help us with batteries for drones, great.” With regard to perhaps cashing in on Musk’s venture or Google’s data-in-the sky efforts, he opined, ’’We would love to collaborate.” Looks like the stage is set for some interesting developments in the not too distant future.