Marc Zuckerberg’s Fly-Forever Drone Internet Service

With Mark Zuckerberg’s groundbreaking social media platform, Facebook, the world and how we interact with each other has been drastically altered. Not one to rest on his laurels of past achievement, Zuckerberg and his financial empire are looking to fly even higher and change the world yet again.

On the drawing board are Mark Zuckerberg’s internet-emitting, fly forever drones. These ultra-light weight super huge drones are meant to stay aloft almost indefinitely, while providing internet to regions of Earth that either infrastructure has not allowed for internet access or the terrain or logistics currently make such infrastructure difficult, if not impossible.

Is the future of internet connectivity in the air?

Currently nearly 1.6 billion people live in areas that reliable internet is just not feasible with current technology or infrastructure. Considering that many of these people live in areas of the world that are considered under development, the argument could be made that those people have needs greater than internet access.

However, providing access to the internet in those regions will bring remote medical and educational facilities to the area. This could enable opportunities for citizens of under developed regions to improve their working knowledge of vital skills to enhance their living conditions.

Wireless technology can provide the internet to areas that would normally not be able to be “hard wired in”, meaning there are no phone poles or underground utility lines to carry internet to homes and buildings.  Normally, towers could bring traditional Wi-Fi signals to areas like this, but when people are spaced far apart and the terrain is covered in mountains, the same restrictions apply. Engineers are now wondering if the answer could be in airborne service providers.

Full of Hot Air

Project Loon X was the first to propose this idea. Their theory was to make several large weather style balloons that hover at the edge of space carrying aloft the transmitter and equipment needed to create a Wi-Fi signal accessible to remote regions. Early testing had shown some promise but many problems have arisen.

The first problem is the weight limitations offered by these balloons. For the balloon to carry the necessary equipment to achieve its goals, it would be necessary to either design equipment that is far more powerful and built out of lighter material or to make the balloons large enough to hold the existing technology.  The next problem is keeping the balloons in a stationary position.  If winds keep blowing them out of range, they are rendered useless.  All ideas to control the location of the balloons added more equipment and thus more weight.

A Soaring Giant

Mark Zuckerberg and his team of innovators have come up with of internet-emitting, fly-forever drones. Ideally these drones can slowly fly the skies at higher altitudes and provide internet to these remote regions.

The specifications are for a drone capable of self-direction to allow them to adjust course and speed to hover over the intended location. They must also be able to carry aloft equipment powerful enough to transmit and receive Wi-Fi signals and then either transmit that data to other drones, ground installations or internet providing satellites in orbit.

Perhaps the greatest challenge that this theory will face is finding the right type of battery. The drones must have a power source that is light weight enough to be functional, advanced enough to survive the brutal extreme conditions of the upper atmosphere, all while being cost effective. No simple feat for engineers.

Enter Project Aquila

Aquila Facebook Drone

© Facebook/Aquila

Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook have begun to tackle this daunting challenge with what is called Aquilla. With the same wingspan of a Boeing 737 at 113 feet tip to tip, this drone is meant to stay aloft and altitudes topping 60,000 to 90,000 feet for as much as 90 days at a time without landing.

Its maiden flight saw the Aquilla reach altitudes of 2000 feet, showing that the drone platform is viable for the next stage of the problem. Aquilla also is able to stay aloft for hours before landing, but there are still many challenges ahead.

Future Challenges

Aquilla is currently power by the same Lithium Ion batteries that power our mobile devices, but that will have to change. These batteries have a charge life that is far under the 90 days necessary for the drone.

Zuckerberg’s solution is to equip the drone with solar panels much like the Solar Impule 2 that made a round the world flight powered only on solar power. These panels would maintain the charge in batteries that Facebook has yet to specify. The challenge remains of ensuring that the solar panels can create enough of a charge at night or during winter conditions to keep the drone in flight.

Much like the Loon-X, weight becomes a problem, though not as much. The drone will be flying at a slower speed allowing for a larger cargo than lighter than air balloons would be able to currently support.  With 4 motors on board the Aquilla, these can be upgraded in power, or extra motors can be added.  With development of newer light weight materials, the Aquilla should be able to compensate for the short comings Loon-X found in regard to weight and position control.

Internet Drones For the Entire World

Mark Zuckerberg’s internet-emitting, fly-forever drones are not meant to be sold by Facebook. Nor does it mean that Facebook plans on operating a fleet of the drones to provide internet connectivity to the world. Just as Facebook has expressed no interest in owning internet transmission towers, it has no interest in owning a drone fleet. Facebook instead intends to make the finished blueprints of the drone available for free where government and private agencies can download and build their own drones capable of providing internet connectivity to the entire world.

Final Reflections

A century ago the invention of the airplane changed the world. In the coming decades flight made the world a smaller place. Radio and then television made the world even smaller. With the advent of the first computers during World War 2 and then the Internet, our world was even more changed. From the internet such advances such as Facebook changed the way we talk, learn and communicate with each other. Now we bring it all together.

Mark Zuckerberg with Project Aquilla will not just change the way those without internet develop. Aquilla will be the test bed for new materials, for better solar panels and batteries. What we gain out of Mark Zuckerberg’s internet-emitting, fly-forever drones just may be that the world is not static, but an ever shrinking frontier that will bring us closer together and closer to finding new frontiers to conquer.

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