Facebook wants to deliver Internet access to remote corners of the world using a fleet of solar-powered drones.
The social network has unveiled its new Connectivity Lab, which includes experts from NASA and UK-based high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) aircraft company Ascenta, describing it as a team working on 'new aerospace and communications technologies' with the overall aim of expanding global Internet access.
A post on the website of company founder Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org project says the lab is investigating solar-powered HALE aircraft that can stay aloft for months, be quickly deployed and deliver reliable Internet connections for suburban areas in regions with poor Internet access.
They are also exploring low-Earth orbit and geosynchronous satellites that can beam Internet access to the ground for lower density areas.
"In our effort to connect the whole world with Internet.org, we've been working on ways to beam Internet to people from the sky. Today, we're sharing some details of the work Facebook's Connectivity Lab is doing to build drones, satellites and lasers to deliver the Internet to everyone," said Zuckerberg in a post on his personal Facebook page.
"Today we are also bringing on key members of the team from Ascenta, a small UK-based company whose founders created early versions of Zephyr, which became the world's longest flying solar-powered unmanned aircraft. They will join our team working on connectivity aircraft."
Earlier this month it was rumoured that Facebook wanted to buy Titan Aerospace, which manufactures "near-orbital, solar-powered drones," to work on a project similar to the Connectivity Lab, though there has been no confirmation of the deal.
In a video post on the Facebook website, Yael Maguire from the social network spoke about the different ways the company is looking at extending the reach of existing Internet connections.
"We're looking at a new type of plane architecture that flies at roughly 20,000m, because that's a point where winds are at their lowest, it's above commercial airliners, it's even above the weather, and actually it can stay in the air for months at a time. These planes are solar-powered and they sit there and circle around, and have the ability to broadcast Internet down."
The launch of Facebook's Connectivity Lab follows a similar move from Google with the creation of Google X, a group which is responsible for the development of both Google Glass and Project Loon, which is designed to provide Internet connectivity to remote areas via a fleet of hellium balloons.
Facebook offered no details on how far advanced the project was, or any time frame for completion.