Facebook to Take to the Air With Solar, oh Yeah and Frikkin’ Laser Beams
Today Mark Zuckerberg announced on—where else, Facebook—that his company is indeed looking to spread the Internet via drones, laser beams and other space-aged stuff.
Rumors surfaced earlier this month that the Web giant was looking into purchasing Titan Aerospace, a maker of solar-powered drones that can fly at roughly 65,000 feet for indefinite periods of time. Now Zukerberg, and the Internet.org foundation, announced the launch of the Connectivity Lab (check out a video about the project here), which will explore methods of transmitting the Internet to more of the world—including via laser beams from above.
“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,” Zuckerberg said in a post. The lab, he said, is working on ways to deliver the internet to everyone, which in addition to drones and lasers include satellites. “Our goal with Internet.org is to make affordable access to basic internet services available to every person in the world.”
“We've made good progress so far,” Zuckerberg said, observing that the number of people in Philippines and Paraguay with access to the Internet increased by 3 million. “We're going to continue building these partnerships, but connecting the whole world will require inventing new technology too. That's what our Connectivity Lab focuses on, and there's a lot more exciting work to do here,” he explained.
While rumors surfaced about the potential acquisition of Titan today’s news is focussed on Facebook’s acquisition of U.K.-based aerospace firm Ascenta. The company’s five-person team have built high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) aircraft, including the world-record holding Zephyr, which flew 336 hours and 22 minutes unmanned. In addition to the Ascenta team, the Connectivity Lab has members from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab and Ames Research Center, according to Zuckerberg.
The organization, Internet.org, consists of a number of tech companies including Samsung, Nokia, Ericsson, Qualcomm, and more. The companies banded together in effort to bring the Internet and its capabilities, including education and connectivity to more of the world. Doing it the way it was done in the U.S. or Europe via phone and/or cable lines requires huge amounts of infrastructure spending, spending that many parts of the world might not be able to do. By using these novel technologies, the organization could bring the Internet to more of the world for less.
For more densely populated areas the team is investigating the drones. For other areas with less people it’s investing using satellites to beam the Internet down. Both systems would use Free-space optical communication, or FSO, a infrared laser beam technology.
Facebook and friends aren’t the only ones investigating connecting the world through the air. Google’s Project Loon launched last year. Already the company has expanded the program.