Newspaper article International New York Times

Facebook Plan to Beam Data from Drones Now a Step Closer

Newspaper article International New York Times

Facebook Plan to Beam Data from Drones Now a Step Closer

Article excerpt

An unmanned aerial vehicle is ready for in-flight tests in the upper atmosphere, most likely in the United States.

Facebook has moved several steps closer to fulfilling its grand ambition of building an Internet network in the sky, announcing that it has built its first unmanned drone and found a way to vastly increase the capacity of the lasers that will eventually beam data between the drone network and the ground.

A team in Britain has been working on building the solar-powered drone, known as Aquila, for about 14 months. Now the company says that the unmanned aerial vehicle, made of ultralight composite materials and weighing 880 pounds, is ready for in-flight tests in the upper atmosphere, most likely in the United States.

"We have completed plane No.1," Jay Parikh, Facebook's vice president for global engineering and infrastructure, said at a news conference on Thursday at the company's headquarters in Silicon Valley.

Facebook, whose primary business is operating the world's largest social network, has been working on a range of projects to extend Internet access to the four billion or so people who don't have it, including teaming with phone carriers to offer free access to Facebook and other basic services in developing countries through its Internet.org app.

The drones are part of a long-term project intended to deliver the Internet to people who live far away from cell towers and fiber optic lines. Although Facebook is designing the drones and the network as well as solving technical problems, it says it will share its knowledge with partners and hopes to enlist telecommunications companies, aircraft manufacturers and perhaps governments in the actual construction and operation of the system.

Google, Facebook's rival for the attention of Internet users, is pursuing its own plan, called Project Loon, to provide Internet access through a network of drifting high-altitude balloons. Sri Lanka said this past week that it had signed a pact to eventually bring the Loon project to that country, although Google said many details remained. …

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