Facebook’s made no secret of its intention to eventually launch unmanned aerial vehicles—also known as drones—into the atmosphere.
Once circling the earth at an extremely high altitude, those vehicles will “beam” the Internet down to under-served countries in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. In order to remain aloft for extended periods of time, the vehicles will rely on solar power. Although relatively lightweight, they’ll also be the size of a 747, according to Facebook Connectivity Lab Engineering Director Yael Maguire, who shared details about the project at the 2014 Social Good Summit.
“We’re taking on a whole bunch of technical risk, but we’re also taking on [a] whole bunch of regulatory risk,” Maguire told the audience, according to Mashable. Despite those challenges, the aircraft may hit the atmosphere within the next five years or so. A video on Internet.org, the name and URL of Facebook’s effort to bring the Internet to all corners of the globe, shows what such a craft might look like.
Facebook isn’t the only tech company eyeing how to best spread the Internet to underdeveloped countries. In mid-2013, The Wall Street Journal reported that Google was hard at work on giant blimps that could transmit Wi-Fi over hundreds of square miles, along with a satellite-based network that would convert unused broadcast television spectrum to wireless-broadband use.
While Facebook and Google might profess an altruistic motive behind their plans to spread the Internet to the under-served, it’s difficult not to see how they could profit from such initiatives. More eyeballs connected to the Web means more opportunity to serve ads and deliver online services, all of which could fatten those companies’ bottom lines.
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