Facebook has completed the first test flight of its unmanned aircraft designed to deliver Internet to remote areas, the social network’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg has revealed.
The test of the solar-powered concept drone has been carried out in the UK, Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page, ahead of Facebook’s F8 developers’ conference in San Francisco.
The drone, dubbed Aquila, is a part of Facebook’s Internet.org project which envisions the unmanned planes to be flown above remote regions all over the world to provide Internet access to communities without ground-based infrastructure.
“The final design will have a wingspan greater than a Boeing 737 but will weigh less than a car,” Zuckerberg wrote. “It will be powered by solar panels on its wings and it will be able to stay at altitudes of more than 60,000 feet for months at a time.”
Facebook believes beaming Internet down from drones would be cheaper and simpler than laying fibre-optic cables.
“Aircraft like these will help connect the whole world because they can affordably serve the 10 per cent of the world's population that live in remote communities without existing Internet infrastructure,” Zuckerberg wrote.
The Internet.org project is a joint venture between Facebook, Nokia, Qualcomm, Ericsson, Samsung, Mediatek and Opera.
Developing technology to provide Internet access to the unconnected of the world, who according to estimates by the International Telecommunications Union make up more than 50 per cent of the global population, has become a fashionable venture among the world’s influential tech entrepreneurs.
Internet giant Google wants to compete with Facebook with its Google Loon project, beaming Internet down to the ground from helium-filled balloons in the stratosphere.
Virgin Group billionaire Richard Branson recently purchased a major stake in the OneWeb project of American entrepreneur Greg Wyler, which is developing a massive constellation of small low-cost satellites that would provide global and cheap Internet coverage.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk doesn’t want to stay behind either and is reportedly developing his own satellite constellation to directly compete with that of Wyler and Branson