Facebook is hoping to launch a fleet of airplanes into the skies that would beam high-speed Wi-Fi to some of the remotest areas of the world. The futuristic plan could also offer a solution to air passengers frustrated by the occasionally patchy internet access available on flights, and the fact that some airlines do not think it’s economical to offer the service at all.
Facebook’s Aquila program involves unmanned solar-powered aircraft carrying “communications payloads” that would be linked to satellite and ground networks.
They think the plan will take minimal infrastructure and maintenance, and have now teamed up with manufacturer Airbus for their WiFi in the sky initiative. In a post announcing the latest development, Facebook’s Yael Maguire said the new high-altitude platform station would “bring affordable connectivity to more people, faster”.
The main idea would be to bring the internet to countries and regions where web access is limited or totally non-existent.However, the plan could also fill in some of the gaps that make web access so haphazard depending on where in the world you are flying.
An early prototype of the type of plane that Facebook would be using was tested this summer. The Aquila flew for nearly two hours over the desert and landed in Arizona proving that the concept could certainly work.
However, developing a fleet of unmanned planes powered by the sun, which could fly for months at a time won’t necessarily be easy which is why they are partnering with Airbus.
As Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg explained: “Our goal is to have a fleet of Aquilas flying together at 60,000 feet, communicating with each other with lasers and staying aloft for months at a time – something that’s never been done before.”
Among the challenges they face are making the aircraft significantly lighter than a grand piano while developing a laser data system that can aim its beams so accurately it could hit a coin eleven miles away … while moving.