Facebook is planning to connect the world from the sky by introducing ‘Aquila’, a high flying, solar powered, laser connected, internet beaming drone intended to provide internet service in remote parts of the world. The Aquila will circle in the stratosphere, beaming internet signals to base stations in the underdeveloped areas of different countries. The company says that the drone has wingspan of a Boeing 737 aircraft and will operate as high as 90,000 feet in air, staying for 90 days at a time. Facebook engineers is developing new laser technologies that can help the drone beam its internet signals to the earth. The drones will be able to offer internet speeds of 10 gigabits per second. This extremely ambitious project is aimed at providing internet access to 4 billion people on the earth who don’t already have the privilege.
Aquila’s wings are made up of a material called carbon fiber and when the material undergoes a kind of heating process known as curing, it can become stronger than steel. Facebook plans to launch the plane into the sky with the help of a big balloon that will carry the aircraft to the stratosphere. The plane would weigh about 880lbs (400kg) and operate between 60,000ft (18km) and 90,000ft (27km) - means that the planes will be flying at an altitude above commercial aircraft and above the weather. Aquila is covered with solar panels and batteries & electric motor are fitted so that the aircraft can stay up in the sky for 3 months. During this time the drone will beam internet down to the earth uninterruptedly.
How it works
Facebook will have lasers on the ground that can locate optical head that is dome shaped, located at the bottom of the plane and can accurately connect with a point from more than 10 miles away. The plane will first hone in on the general location of the laser on the ground, proceeding to target it further and it will lock on to a location so that it can start beaming down the internet. The planes are intended to stay for three months at a time. During day, when they are fully charged, the planes will fly at an altitude of 90,000 feet, but at night, for saving power they will float down to about 60,000 feet. This ensures the constant connection to the internet.
The laser is used to beam a connection from a fiber-optic cable on the ground in a city up to one of the Aquila drones, which has its own laser to relay that connection to other drones. That is, the drones are connected each other and with the ground through a laser communication system. This makes it possible to create a stratospheric network that can extend to the remotest regions of the world. Facebook have a lab tested laser which can deliver data of tens of gigabits per second, which is ten times faster than the current state-of-art- lasers in the industry.
Aquila will be able to distribute internet to the people to earth in a 50 kilometer radius. The signals that are sent by the aircraft will be received by the towers and it will convert those signals into a Wi-Fi or LTE network so that people can connect with their cell phones and smart phones. If the drones are able to send signal to and from each other, the internet infrastructure that is needed to be built at the ground is less.
The drone project was developed by Facebook’s Connectivity lab, which contains former researchers from NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory and National optical observatory, among others. The lab is a part of internet.org initiative to bring internet to places where there is lack of connectivity. Also there are many major players in the telecommunication industry who have signed on as partners of internet.org initiative. This is an ambitious and long term global effort to provide affordable internet service to everyone in the world.
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