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We thought Google’s Project Loon sounded like an equal mix of ambitious and crazy, but now Facebook’s joined the game too. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced that the social network is working on connecting the globe through the use of drones, satellites and lasers to beam internet access to regions which haven’t been reached through terrestrial connections.
In a Facebook post, Zuckerberg explained that his company had brought five members of the team from drone maker Ascenta on board a new project called ‘Connectivity Lab’. The Ascenta employees — who worked on early versions of the world’s longest flying solar-powered unmanned aircraft, Zephyr — will join experts from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and Ames Research Center in creating new connectivity solutions to bring the rest of the world online.
Connectivity Lab is a project of Zuckerberg’s Internet.org, which has already connected more than 3-million people through partnerships with mobile operators in the Philippines and Paraguay. Although Zuckerberg says those efforts will continue, the new air-based methods will centre around high-altitude long-endurance aircraft, while orbit-level satellites will be put to different uses. According to the team, it all depends on population density:
For suburban areas in limited geographical regions, we’ve been working on solar-powered high altitude, long endurance aircraft that can stay aloft for months, be quickly deployed and deliver reliable internet connections.
For lower density areas, low-Earth orbit and geosynchronous satellites can beam internet access to the ground.
To do this, they plan to use light to transmit data. The drones and satellites will be designed to use invisible infrared laser beams to boost the speed of their internet connections. Facebook’s Yael Maguire has explained some of the challenges and ideas around the technology in a video released by Internet.org.
Wonder what those solar-powered drones will look like and why they’re excited to connect the globe? Facebook’s put together a short animation to give you an idea.