Monday 10 August 2015

Behind the Scenes with Facebook's New Solar-Powered Internet Drone and Laser Technology


Facebook’s Large Solar Powered Aircraft

Facebook has developed a large solar powered aircraft in order to blanket the planet with Internet connection. According to Jay Parikh, Facebook, vice president of infrastructure engineering, during a media event at Facebook’s campus in Menlo Park, had stated that the unmanned aircraft known as Aquila has wingspan of a Boeing 737 though weights aboutthe third of a Toyota Prius car.

Aquila would be responsible to beam Internet signals back to rural locations on the Earth which tends to lack the type of communications setup required in maintaining internet connection. As per Parikh, about 10% of the population in the world seem to live in rural areas, some identified in certain regions of Africa and India, besides others, are unable to gain access to the web.

A team of Facebook engineers in the UK have spent around 14 months constructing the plane, though Facebook has refrained from disclosing the number of employees employed in the project. It is said that the Aquila’s wings seem to be made of a kind of material known as carbon fibre and when the material tends to undergo a type of heating process called curing, it get stronger than steel for the same mass of material, as explained by Yael Maguire, Facebook Connectivity Lab director, in a blog post. The material also explains why the drone seems to be so light.

Launching the Plane in the Sky with Big Balloon

Facebook intends launching the plane in the sky with the aid of a big balloon which could carry the aircraft to the stratosphere and will float between altitudes of around 60,000 to 90,000 feet. The aircraft at these altitudes would be far from the airspace of commercial airliners that fly as well as free from storms or other weather disturbances, according to Parikh.

Moreover, the Facebook team have also covered Aquila with solar panels, fitting the craft with batteries together with an electric motor in order that the plane stays in the sky for a period of 3 months. Within that period of time, the drone would be beaming the Internet down without any interruptions or even the need for refuelling. Maguire has informed reporters that when the plane comes back to the planet it would land like a glider due to its aerodynamic design.

Aquila will be accountable in providing the Internet to the people on Earth within a radius of 50 kilometres while in the air. Maguire had mentioned in a post that small cellular towers as well as dishes will tend to receive the signals that are sent by the aircraft and will convert those signals into a Wi-Fi or LTE network which people could connect to their cellphones as well as smartphones.

Breakthrough for Data & Information From Drone to Drone

Facebook has also mentioned that it has achieved a breakthrough for the data and information to be transferred from drone to drone and if Facebook tends to fly numerous planes it would be able to shelter bigger swaths of land.

With the use of laser communication technology, Facebook has apparently developed a system to stream data between drones at a rate of 10 gigabytes per second at a speed which is as fast as what fibre-optic services could provide to U.S. inhabitants, like those living in Minneapolis. Parikh clarifies that the discovery in laser communications is the outcome of the software based networking developments Facebook has been continuing out in its data centres. Maguire states that the communications signals that are sent through the sky seem to be so accurate that they can actually `hit a dime from 11 miles away’.

Accuracy seems to be important if drones are to be capable of sending signals to and from each other resulting in less Internet infrastructure, essential in building it on the ground. According to Maguire, this begins to look like a backbone of the Internet using lasers in the sky.

Aim to Setup Aerial Internet Infrastructure

It is important to remember that Facebook is not near to launching these planes to power the Internet but has only constructed on drone till now with plans for more in the pipeline. Parikh has not estimated when Facebook would fly multiple drones over the Earth but has only informed that this will be an effort which they will invest in for several years to come, but presently, the plan is to spend the second half of this year doing flight testing.

He has also pushed back on a query suggesting that Facebook could only permit the Facebook site or certain websites to be sent to rural locations through its determinedproject. Parikh has stated that Facebook has no plans in becoming an Internet service provider but aims to setup the aerial Internet infrastructure and thereafter enable major carriers to operate and distribute the web in the same way how they do so, on Earth.

Facebook’s Connectivity Lab had developed the drone project that comprised of earlier researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory besides others. The lab is said to be a fragment of Facebook’s enterprise in bringing the Internet to places where connectivity is lacking.

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