Facebook has built the first full-scale version of its Internet beaming drone which has the wingspan of a Boeing 737, will fly at altitudes as high as 90,000 feet and stay airborne for up to 90 days.
Known as Aquila, the drone will be able to beam Internet to the ground at speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second and will aim to bring the Internet to millions of people in underserved countries across the globe.
The 400kg drones will communicate with each other via a laser system called free-space optics, allowing a fleet of them to cover broad swaths of land. Each drone will be able to cover an area of 50 miles.
Facebook has said that it doesn’t plan on operating the drones itself, but rather work along with telecommunications companies and governments to implement them. The goal behind the operation is to develop drone-for-internet technologies to a point where they became a viable solution for deployment.
Testing of Aquila will begin sometime in the coming months, most probably in the United States. The drones will be lifted to about 70,000 feet via a balloon, after which the tether will be cut and the drone will be released into its flight path.
The drones will be solar powered, running off sunlight and charging its batteries while it flies around at 90,000 feet. At night, the drone will drift down to altitudes of about 60,000 feet. The pattern will be repeated in 24 hour cycles.
Facebook isn’t the only company looking to beam free Internet from the skies. Google’s Project Loon has completed its lion’s share of testing and is almost ready for deployment. Reports have emerged of Google partnering with the Sri Lankan government to provide Internet access across the island nation via Project loon.