Facebook announced it had completed the first successful test flight of its UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) platform, which it intends to deploy in order to extend connectivity as part of its internet.org initiative, aimed at bringing connectivity to the five billion people around the world currently without access to the internet.
The drone, as reported by TechCrunch, has a wingspan comparable to a Boeing 767 but uses lightweight materials that allow it to weigh less than a car. More tests are scheduled for the summer.
Speaking at the social media giant’s annual developer conference this week, Mike Schroepfer, Facebook’s chief technology officer, described the UAV platform as part of “radical new infrastructure” that the firm’s Connectivity Lab is developing “to connect people living in some of the most inaccessible areas on Earth”.
“It’s our hope that this platform — and others developed by the Connectivity Lab team — will provide new, more cost-effective solutions for our operator partners around the world,” he said. “As with the Open Compute Project, we want to work with the broader community to accelerate the pace of innovation.
The Connectivity Lab includes a team from Ascenta, which designs and builds high altitude long endurance aircraft. Facebook reportedly acquired the UK-based company for just under $20 million.
As well as high-altitude long-endurance planes, the Connectivity Lab is also looking at satellites and lasers as a way to extend connectivity where traditional mobile networks don’t reach.
It is not clear when Facebook expects these new ways of connecting people to become a practical reality, although the firm seems to have a clear desire to work with others, as Schroepfer indicated, to speed up development.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in a recent interview with Bloomberg, even declared he would “love to work with Google”.
While Facebook has been working on drones and satellite technology to develop “new platforms for connectivity on the ground, in the air and in orbit”, Google’s Project Loon involves solar-powered transmitters attached to helium balloons to provide internet access to the developing world.
Zuckerberg has said he wants to spend billions on the internet.org project without expecting returns, at least in the short term.