Facebook Connectivity Lab Updates Progress With Drones, Lasers

Drones and lasers in the sky: It may sound like a science-fiction flick, but it’s actually the latest news from Facebook’s Connectivity Lab.

Drones and lasers in the sky: It may sound like a science-fiction flick, but it’s actually the latest news from Facebook’s Connectivity Lab.

Vice president of global engineering and infrastructure Jay Parikh announced in a Newsroom post that a full-scale version of Aquila, the high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft designed by the social network’s aerospace team in the U.K., is ready for flight testing.

Parikh also noted that Facebook’s laser communications team in Woodland Hills, Calif., designed and lab-tested a laser that is capable of delivering data at tens of gigabytes per second—some 10 times faster than what is currently considered state-of-the-art—to a target the size of a dime from more than 10 miles away.

More details follow from Parikh’s post:

A full-scale version of Aquila—the high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft designed by our aerospace team in the U.K.—is now complete and ready for flight testing. Aquila has the wingspan of a 737 but weighs hundreds of times less, thanks to its unique design and carbon-fiber frame. When deployed, it will be able to circle a remote region for up to 90 days, beaming connectivity down to people from an altitude of 60,000 to 90,000 feet.

Our laser communications team in Woodland Hills, Calif., has achieved a significant performance breakthrough. They’ve designed and lab-tested a laser that can deliver data at tens of gigabytes per second—approximately 10 times faster than the previous state-of-the-art in the industry—to a target the size of a dime from more than 10 miles away. We are now starting to test these lasers in real-world conditions. When finished, our laser communications system can be used to connect our aircraft with each other and with the ground, making it possible to create a stratospheric network that can extend to even the remotest regions of the world.

Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg also posted about the developments:

This effort is important because 10 percent of the world’s population lives in areas without existing Internet infrastructure. To affordably connect everyone, we need to build completely new technologies.

Using aircraft to connect communities using lasers might seem like science fiction. But science fiction is often just science before its time. Over the coming months, we will test these systems in the real world and continue refining them so we can turn their promise into reality.

Readers: What are your thoughts on Thursday’s news from Facebook’s Connectivity Lab?

AquilaTesting

Take a look inside Facebook’s Connectivity Lab – an important part of our effort to bring connectivity to the billions of people who are unconnected today.

Posted by Facebook Engineering on Thursday, July 30, 2015

I’m excited to announce we’ve completed construction of our first full scale aircraft, Aquila, as part of our Internet.org effort. Aquila is a solar powered unmanned plane that beams down internet connectivity from the sky. It has the wingspan of a Boeing 737, but weighs less than a car and can stay in the air for months at a time. We’ve also made a breakthrough in laser communications technology. We’ve successfully tested a new laser that can transmit data at 10 gigabits per second. That’s ten times faster than any previous system, and it can accurately connect with a point the size of a dime from more than 10 miles away.This effort is important because 10% of the world’s population lives in areas without existing internet infrastructure. To affordably connect everyone, we need to build completely new technologies. Using aircraft to connect communities using lasers might seem like science fiction. But science fiction is often just science before its time. Over the coming months, we will test these systems in the real world and continue refining them so we can turn their promise into reality. Here’s a video showing the building of Aquila.

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday, July 30, 2015