Facebook shuts down its Aquila drone project

By Shehryar Ahmed on
June 27, 2018
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Facebook started developing a solar-powered drone four years back. The drone’s main purpose was to provide internet access in remote areas through a “High Altitude Platform Station”, an aircraft with multiple transmitters which enable users based in remote areas to access the internet. The aircraft had solar cells so that it stays suspended in the air through solar power instead of fuel. The basic objective of the drone can be said to be to ensure that communication in these areas do not break down.

Initially, Facebook tested the drone in 2016 but that turned out to be a failure. Afterward, in July 2017 they tested the drone again, wherein it successfully remained in the air for roughly 2 hours. Speaking at that time, the CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg said, “When Aquila is ready, it will be a fleet of solar-powered planes that will beam internet connectivity across the world”. Fast forward to now, Facebook has decided to pull the plug on Aquila, quoting it to be “impractical”.

facebook-testing-aquila-drone

A blog has been posted on Facebook’s coding sub-site by Yael Maguire, the Director of Engineering of Facebook. Reportedly, ever since Facebook started work on the project, other aviation companies decided to take up interest too. Their interest can be seen by the fact that Airbus is collaborating with Facebook to further the program to build a High Altitude Platform Station (HAPS). Facebook has decided to part ways from the manufacturing of the aircraft themselves, not the entire project. They will still be working on the project’s technical side.

Maguire, in the blog post, said, “HAPS connectivity requires more than just an aircraft. We’ve made important progress on some of the other key parts of the system — including setting new records using millimeter-wave (MMW) technology in air-to-ground and point-to-point communication. And then we more than doubled our MMW record with 40 Gbps connectivity simultaneously in both directions from a ground location to a circling Cessna aircraft over 7 kilometers away.”

Facebook will continue to work on the development of HAPS and its prerequisites such as high-capacity batteries and signal transmitters and receivers. According to them, “Connectivity for everyone is a great challenge”. The development of HAPS plays a significant role in combatting this challenge so that worldwide communication can be made easier.

Subsequently, Facebook is shutting down its aircraft development/manufacturing facility in Bridgewater, UK. Reports claim that the closure of the facility will cause 16 people to go unemployed directly while a significant lot will be affected indirectly. While Facebook has stressed upon the fact that the only component they’re taking away is the manufacturing of the aircraft in favor of outsourcing production to actual aviation companies, the potential delay in the public release of the HAPS system (due to non-interest of aviation companies) might cause a significant amount of inconvenience for people living in remote areas hoping to get connected with the rest of the world.

So, what do you think? Facebook’s decision, yay or nay?

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