It’s raining internet. For the past few years Google has been testing technology that can deliver internet access to remote locations through hot air balloons. Now Facebook has built a solar-powered airplane that can do the same thing.

aquila

Facebook calls the its plane Aquila, and claims it can stay in the air for up to 90 days. It’s meant to circle areas where there’s no infrastructure in place to deliver internet access: no cables, telephone lines, or cell towers.

Aquila can beam the internet from heights of 60 thousand to 90 thousand feet using lasers that can deliver data to tiny receivers on the ground at “10s of Gb per second.”

Facebook doesn’t plan to operate its own wireless internet network. The company is instead developing the technology in the hopes that someone else will implement it to provide internet access in parts of the world where it’s not already available.

Google’s Project Loon balloons, meanwhile, are now ready to deliver internet access to the entire island of Sri Lanka.

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7 replies on “Facebook’s solar airplane beams internet from above”

  1. High tech equals hubris, greed and incompetence.

    This plane is just another example of Silicon Valley hubris.

  2. Visual and noise pollution just to get internet in remote areas? These capitalists need to read a f’in doctor seus book. This internet coverage all over the planet needs to stop. We need forests and natural areas, not cell towers, air planes and pollution everywhere.

    1. I suggest you reread the article. The aircraft is solar-electric, so it will consume no fuel and be extremely quiet; no noise pollution or air pollution. It will beam signals to the ground directly; no cell towers in the area it will cover. As for “visual pollution,” at its cruising altitude the wingspan of the aircraft will appear from the ground to be about a quarter the size of the full moon or smaller — you’d have to look pretty hard even to spot it. (Its cruising altitude is well above the ceiling for any bird, so though you didn’t mention it I’ll note that there is also no possibility of bird fatalities except in the tiny fraction of three months during which it is taking off or landing.)

      This will have very little impact on “forests and natural areas”; and in any case, they’re not talking about making it easier for tourists to post selfies from the wild, but for people who live in remote areas to get Internet connectivity at all in the first place. I suggest you ask those people if they feel it’d be worth the tradeoff. And yes, Facebook’s motivation here is a capitalist quest to get more faces; but again I suggest you ask the people who live in remote, Internet-less areas if they’d rather be part of Facebook’s expanding market, or wait for the unlikely event that someone will give them Internet access as a charity project, or do without.

      1. Lasers to blind birds, animals and humans. Propellers to kill birds. Ya, quiet propellers, you really show yourself to be real hack if you type things like that. Capitalists and too many humans are destroying this planet, there needs to be a limit. It is up to those with a conscious to realize that these billion dollar giants are parasites destroying the planet, diversity and a healthy life.

        1. You should probably get off of the internet and get back to nature, then.

        2. You are probably thinking of a turboprop or a blatting piston-engine plane at takeoff. Again, this is solar-electric propulsion we’re talking about; the props are large but slow for efficiency, so yes they’re quiet, and the motors have no combustion and no exhaust. Note the Solar Impulse link in my other post; you can find videos of the takeoff of a much larger plane than Facebook’s, and it’s almost inaudible. At the landing I witnessed, I barely heard the props as it flew low over the field; and again, we’re talking about something designed to spend nearly all its time, not just a few hours at a stretch, miles above people’s ears or, as I already noted, the flight of birds.

          As for the lasers, I made no comment about that; I would want to see safety studies, of course, but they are talking about plane-to-plane and ground-to-plane communication, not plane-to-random-target-on-ground broadcast. I was addressing the specific complaints in your original post, based on my own observations and experience. No hackery, no name-calling.

          Edit: ah, I see a possible source of confusion. Brad-san, you refer to “lasers that can deliver data to tiny receivers on the ground” — if you look at the caption on the second slideshow picture, it refers to “lasers and radio frequency technology,” and in the third picture it shows schematically that this is implemented as I describe above: lasers from ground station to plane and plane to plane, then conventional RF cellular technology for broadcast to end users. No lasers pointing at distributed end users (and the birds around them), though I’d guess they’d also use lasers for downlink from at least one “master” plane back to the ground control station (and thence to the broader Internet).

  3. On a related note, the manned solar-powered aircraft Solar Impulse 2 (www.solarimpulse.com) is in the middle of an attempt to fly around the world. With a human pilot, 90 days isn’t exactly on the table, but a record-shattering flight of nearly five days a month ago took the aircraft from Japan to Hawaii, where it will undergo repairs and spend the winter. At the risk of appearing to pimp my own (non-commercial) website, I’ll post a link to my own photos from at and after the Hawaii landing: https://www.altfuels.org/events/otherafv/si2.shtml .

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