Facebook will be bringing internet to the developing world using drones, satellites and lasers.
Following hard on the heels of the company’s $2bn purchase of virtual reality firm Oculus Rift it does sound like an early April’s Fool, but it’s actually the next step in Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org initiative to deliver internet to the two-thirds of the world that are offline.
“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,” wrote Zuckerberg in a blog post.
“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.”
The announcement confirms earlier rumours that the social network will be working on using high-altitude, solar-powered drones to achieve its goals.
It had been previously suggested that the company would purchase drone manufacturers Titan Aerospace, but it now seems they’ve secured talent from Nasa and Somerset-based aerospace company Ascenta.
The latter wrote on their site that they would be joining Facebook in a “special partnership” to work on “high altitude long endurance vehicles”. The five-member team has more than 100 years of combined experience within the aerospace industry.
The technology behind the sorts of aircraft that Facebook is interested in is already quite well established. The basic design is to use solar panels on the top of the wings that charge batteries during the day and keep the craft flying at night, and position the plane at high enough altitudes (roughly 20,000 metres of 65,000 feet) that they’re essentially flying above bad weather.
Zuckerberg has not provided a specific road-map for the use of this technology, but did highlight the project’s recent successes in the Philippines and Paraguay. In these countries he said that Internet.org has “doubled the number of people using mobile data […] helping 3 million new people access the internet.”
Internet.org has partnered with a number of big tech companies including Samsung, Nokia and Qualcomm, but the initiative has also been criticized for prioritizing internet access over more tangible improvements for the developing world such as vaccination programs and access to clean water.