How Do Facebook Drones Work? The Fleet That Could Bring Internet To Billions Is Pretty Complex

It’s a bird… It’s a plane… No wait, it’s just one of Facebook’s massive drones. The social media company just announced that Facebook is building a fleet of drones to provide Internet access to billions. On Thursday, the second day of Facebook’s F8 conference, the company revealed that the unmanned aerial vehicles were part of its Internet.org project, which aims to provide Internet to the 5 billion people still without it.

As if the idea of drones beaming Internet down across the world wasn’t already mind-boggling, the massive size of the Facebook drones — codenamed Aquila — makes the project all the more impressive. According to The New York Times, the drones measure the same length as a Boeing 767’s wingspan. However, to ensure the drones can remain 60,000 to 90,000 feet in the air for up to three months at a time, they weigh less than a small car. The drones will be fueled by solar power and will use lasers to beam down Internet and allow communication amongst drones.

Facebook got its hands on its team of drones last year when the company acquired United Kingdom-based drone maker Ascenta, The New York Times reports. The fleet will first take to the skies this summer for test flights, but it might be years before the drones’ commercial deployment. But once the drones are fully up and running, it’s believed that they can fly to some of the world’s most remote regions to deliver Internet.

So, why is a social media company delving into a drones project? Well, The New York Times says it’s all part of the competition in the current market. This project will solidify Facebook’s footing in the mobile computing devices market, as Google announces high-speed fiber networks and high-altitudes balloons, and Amazon prepares to launch delivery drones. Facebook's Internet.org initiative — which launched in August 2013 — was initially an assertion of the company's influence and a way for Facebook to partner with mobile companies. But now that the company has made the announcement about Aquila, it seems all the more like Facebook is competing with Google to achieve universal Internet coverage.

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Just like its competitors, Facebook seems willing to risk billions of dollars, time, and energy to explore a project that may not become a reality for quite a long time. While the project is currently in the works, it's hard to say when it will diverge from a creative concept into a reality. Yael Maguire, head of Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, told The New York Times:

We want to serve every person in the world. Can we reach a point where everyone on the planet gets the same message at once? I’m looking forward to that day.

And while massive drones flying through the sky might sound kind of terrifying, the day when every one in the world can access the Internet is undoubtedly a day that we can all look forward to.

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