Facebook’s Internet-Beaming Solar-Powered Drones Are Coming

As Facebook and Google rush to connect the remaining regions of the world that lack Internet connectivity, they are increasingly looking to the skies. While Google has balloons in mind, Facebook is planning drones that will be able to fly for days or months at high altitudes, beaming Internet connections to remote areas below.

Facebook is planning unmanned drones like this one to fly above normal air traffic and beam Internet connectivity to areas of the Earth that don't have it now.
A high-flying, solar-powered unmanned plane. Images Credit: Internet.org

Facebook has been working on this project for some time, having bought a company that designs solar-powered drones in March. The solar-powered Internet drone plan is part of Internet.org, which is supported by Facebook. Facebook Connectivity’s scientist Yael Maguire spoke at the Social Good Summit this week and provided more details about the project, including that the drones will need to fly between 60,000 and 90,000 feet above the Earth.

If you’re picturing a drone the length of car or even a bus, you have the wrong idea. Maguire compared the drones to Boeing 747s, saying that that the drones will need to be much lighter than the planes that carry passengers. The organization is working on a way to fly the drones, which obviously be unmanned. The trick at the moment is determining how they can also be mostly unmanned on the ground. As Maguire points out, there will be a large number of drones, so having a single “pilot” controlling each plane from the ground would be difficult. Putting many drones under the supervision of a few pilots will require changes in technology and possibly changes in the laws of the countries affected. But for all the challenges, the project is moving forward, and Facebook expects to get a test drone in the air by 2015.