Facebook May Use Solar-Powered Drones to Connect Africa Online

Written by on March 11, 2014 in Africa, Tech - No comments

8725078749_b8baf91344Facebook is considering the use of high-flying, solar-powered drones to connect parts of the world that are currently without any Internet access. As one of the key supporters of the Internet.org initiative, Facebook is keen to bring Internet access to more than five billion people across the world that are still living without online connectivity.

Facebook could be in talks with Titan Aerospace, the manufacturer of near-orbital, solar-powered drones that can fly for five years without needing to land. Beginning with Africa, Facebook would like to use these drones to achieve its ambition of connecting the planet via the Internet. The company would launch this effort with the initial production of 11,000 of these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), specifically the “Solara 60” model.

These drones operate as atmospheric satellites that can perform most of the operations of an orbital satellite at a cheaper cost. Apart from communications, these drones could potentially be used for disaster recovery, weather monitoring, and Earth imaging. However, Facebook would primarily look at these drones from an Internet connectivity perspective.

The Solar 50 and 60 models can use power from internal battery packs if they are launched at night. When the sun rises, they can store energy that is sufficient for them to ascend 20 kilometers above sea level. At this level, they can remain for five years without any need to land or refuel. This capability makes them an ideal option for regional Internet systems such as the ones that Internet.org is focusing on.

With its recent acquisition of WhatsApp for $19 billion, Facebook’s efforts to connect the entire planet online appear to be a part of a broader vision that it shares with WhatsApp. If Facebook can successfully provide affordable Internet access to developing parts of the world, it could also make a basic version of WhatsApp available to those users. With the costs of the basic phones getting cheaper, it is the data transmission costs that make the web unaffordable to large parts of the developing world. Facebook’s drone-based Internet connectivity could change that.

Source: TechCrunch

Image Credit: Flickr via Don McCullough

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