Facebook Built a Giant Internet Plane

Jul 31, 2015

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Despite what seems like nearly ubiquitous cellular internet access across much of the developed world, over 4 billion people still don’t have internet access. But that may soon change. Social media giant Facebook announced yesterday that it had built the Aquila plane designed to deliver internet to some of these people in remote and unconnected areas.

In 2013, Facebook and six phone companies announced the Internet.org initiative, with the goal of providing internet access to as many people as possible, saying that access to the knowledge bank that the internet provides boosts economic activity by a significant margin. Zuckerberg cited a McKinsey study that showed that 21 percent of GDP growth in developed countries could be traced back to the internet.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg broke the news in none other than a Facebook post, providing details on the Internet.org project achievements.

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

Zuckerberg says that the Aquila plane has been under development for over a year by the company’s own aerospace team in the United Kingdom. The plane has a wingspan of a Boeing 737, but weighs less than a car. It has the capacity to stay afloat for months at a time.

Simultaneously, the communications team in Woodland Hills, California, has successfully tested a laser that is capable of transmitting data at 10 gigabits per second, and can “accurately connect with a point the size of a dime from more than 10 miles away.”

The Internet.org group is not operating under the goal to build and operate this network themselves, but rather help catalyze and advance the technology to a point where it becomes feasible.

As for the plane, the Aquila is built but hasn’t undergone any flight testing yet. Shaped like a boomerang, its built with a carbon-fiber frame. When launched, Facebook says it will be able to stay circling in the air for up to 90 days, connecting internet users down below from 60,000 to 90,000 feet in the air.

There’s not yet a timeline on when this technology could come to fruition and the plane would be operational, but it likely won’t be for many years to come.

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