Facebook shouldn’t exist. That is to say, Facebook was a long shot to ever become as big as it now is. The social media platform is used by a third of the population on Earth. Facebook itself is now a monolithic website with very little reason to ever think that this fact will change. So it makes sense that Mark Zuckerberg, the wunderkind behind the platform, is looking on to bigger and better things. Zuckerberg started the website Internet.org in order to help spread the internet as a utility to people all over the planet at an affordable price. Now he is trying to bring it to their doorstep with his fleet of drones. Let’s take a step inside the Facebook drone Aquila and discover just what it is all about.
The Aquila Drone is huge but incredibly light.
The Aquila Drone itself has the wingspan of a Boeing 767 yet despite this bulky size, the drone itself will only weigh as much as a regular sized car. The wingspan measures at 95 feet and reports say that it can maintain altitude at 60,000 all the way to 90,000 feet. These lightweight materials make the Aquila more than ideal for the globe trotting that it will be asked to do during its three months of life in the air, before coming down for a recharge.
The Aquila will have to be smartly programmed to dodge collision
Facebook intends to launch 11,000 drones with the first phase of their internet expansion plan, using the drones to beam down the internet to underserved areas. In order for them to succeed in this fashion they will need to be able to safely navigate the skies. With drones and satellites, along with airplanes and military aircraft, there has been an increasing presence in the sky. So Facebook has to make sure that their drones are either A) always being monitored or B) programmed with smart technology so that they will seamlessly navigate the increasingly crowded airwaves.
Facebook has competition from Google.
Facebook and Google are two of the biggest web presences on the planet and they both have eyes on the same progression to internet providers. So the Facebook Aquila will have some pretty opposition when it finally gets to market. Google is going a different route than the Facebook drones, however. Google is instead going to target the solar powered hot air balloon market. While that sounds at the very least like a downgrade compared to drones, it still is real competition. This is an untapped market and the Aquila will have to prove itself in order to succeed long term. Google’s hot air balloon division is called Project Loon and has the same goals as the Aquila. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have both been vocally skeptical about the viability of hot air balloons as a vehicle to accomplish what Google is positing as their attempt.
Aquila will bring internet to infrastructure challenged communities.
Yael Maguire is the head engineer at Facebook’s Connectivity Lab and he admits that there are a ton of challenges in the way of the Aquila. Mark Zuckerberg, however, is focused on the objective. His objective is to push available technology to their very limits in order to help provide internet to the 10% of the population that does not have easy access to it. While the majority of the Earth’s population has access to internet, there is a small percentage that lacks the infrastructure to even consider having internet in their communities. This is what Project Aquila seeks to target and it is an almost humanitarian effort that could change the world for small communities peppered throughout the globe. The internet isn’t just a fun way to kill the time, it is a source of information that can literally take down governments or revolutionize them.
The Aquila Drone is an extension of the work that Internet.org has pioneered.
We’ve touched upon Internet.org several times in our list but now we have to describe what it really is. The website is a partnership utilizing several social networking services. Their goal is to make the internet affordable and make it accessible to developing countries that have no other options. Mark Zuckerberg and the rest of the committee have admitted that satellites have their place in the conversation but that they are not the answer to the internet problem that many developing countries are facing. Project Aquila is the next link in the chain for what Internet.org is trying to do.
Facebook wants 11,000 drones in the sky.
Mark Zuckerberg is not a man of small vision. From the very onset of his career he was aiming for the stars. Now his internet expansion plan is going to be just as ambitious and, likely, just as successful. Facebook bought an entire drone making company out just so that they could have everything on hand for their ambitious first phase: 11,000 drones. Purchasing Titan Aerospace cost Facebook almost $50 million dollars at the end of the day. This actually isn’t even a huge investment for the mega rich Zuckerberg and the rest of his crew at Facebook. At the end of the day the company wants to put 11,000 of these light weight drones in the sky for the first phase of their expansion.
Drones offer Facebook a foothold into mobile commerce.
Some critics of the Facebook drone series have described them as ‘cell phone towers at 60,000 feet’. This is because Facebook will be able to market their mobile applications with these devices. With the primary point of the enterprise being the spread of a Facebook service, many critics believe that the Aquila service will give Facebook the foothold that they need in order to push forward with a huge mobile gaming and application push. Right now the Futures for Facebook project most heavily in the mobile market. This is a target enterprise, obviously, but it is also much more self oriented than Internet.org would have you believe. Of course the side effect of internet everywhere helps Facebook, but it does make them seem a little less magnanimous.
Critics of the Aquila worry that it will break net neutrality.
Net neutrality has been a hot button topic for the better part of the past five or six years. The debate on net neutrality has raged harshly on Capitol Hill and now it will once again come to the forefront. With the Aquila Network airborne Facebook would also be the internet provider for people that are also their customers. On a global level, at 60,000 feet, Facebook also would not be beholden to United States regulations. While we can take Zuckerberg at face value and accept his pinkie swear of good behavior there is still very obviously some issues at play here. Not incidentally, developing nations are perfect developing grounds for the Silicon Valley type entrepreneur.
The Aquila Drone will be solar powered.
The Aquila combines a few different modern technologies that will become more and more popular on the ground. The Aquila will have a uniquely blended ‘flight life’ thanks to the fact that it runs on solar energy and batteries. Located above commercial flights but below inner atmosphere satellites, the Aquila is in primary position to maximize its solar absorption. According to the creators of the drone, the Aquila should be able to stay airborne for up to five years at a time. Facebook however plans only to have them airborne for up to three years at a time. With so many drones in the sky, and many likely waiting on the wings, there is no reason to push the technology.
The Code name Aquila comes from the Latin word for ‘Eagle’.
After learning so much about the Facebook Aquila drone we can’t help but feel that the name is quite apt. The code name is derived from the Latin word for Eagle and the Greek mythology associated with the root word is fascinating, and probably pretty apt for the description of the machine. In Greek mythology the Aquila was a gigantic eagle that carried Zeus’s iconic thunderbolts. This sort of backs up how important the Aquila is to Zuckerberg and, well, really everybody else who has a passing interest in the world of technology. Much like Aquila was charged with carrying legendary weapons, the modern drone version is charged with carrying our most precious source of information: the internet.