Facebook’s Aquila drone, designed to deliver internet access to remote areas, completed a 90-minute test flight.
The prototype, Aquila drone, completed its first 90-minute flight over the Arizona region. Facebook described the flight as a “big milestone” in its plan to deliver Internet access to remote parts in the world.
The Aquila drone is a solar powered aircraft that does not require a human to fly. It encircles an area of 60 miles in diameter and is purposed to deliver internet access to 4 billion people in sub-Saharan Africa who do not have the privilege. The drone will provide the internet by beaming down signals from a 60,000-foot height using laser and millimeter wave systems technology. Ascenta, a Somerset-based company, designed the technology powering the drone. Facebook acquired the technology in a £12.5 million deal in 2014.
The Aquila, made of lightweight carbon fiber, weighs less than a car, yet it has the wingspan of a Boeing 737. During the flight, the drone consumed only five kilowatts. That energy is enough to power a high-end microwave or three hairdryers. During the maiden flight, Facebook did not attach the untested internet delivery antennae. However, the company released a press release describing the capabilities of Aquila.
The maiden flight, which took place on 28th June, lasted 96 minutes. According to Facebook, that was thrice the time they expected the drone to fly. Facebook expect the drone to last more than three months eventually. Facebook acknowledged that although the first flight was a success, it still was miles away from accomplishing its targets. The world record of a solar powered unmanned flight lasted two weeks, yet Facebook expects Aquila to last three months above ground.
Facebook has a team of engineers and software experts at Bridgewater working on Project Aquila. The engineers include former employees at Royal Air Force, NASA, and Boeing. Facebook’s intention is for Aquila drone to be part of a fleet of drones, which will deliver internet access to remote regions in sub-Saharan Africa, and other remote areas that have no internet access.
“The Internet offers some life-changing opportunities and experiences. It is a shame that there are 4 billion people in the world with no access. Half of that population lives in areas so remote that delivering connectivity using mobile broadband networks is impractically expensive. But our new technologies can change that, and help quickly solve the problem. “Jay Parikh, Facebook’s Global Head of Engineering and Infrastructure said in a published blog post.
Jay Parikh pointed out that this was the first test. In future trials, Facebook intends to fly Aquila higher, faster and longer.