Facebook Successfully Tests Aquila Solar-Powered Internet Drone

Things are looking up for Facebook?EU?s plans to provide high-speed Internet connectivity to virtually everyone on the planet. Not only did a team of scientists from the company figure out how to improve data transmission by laser beams this week, but the social network?EU?s experimental Aquila drone finally had its maiden voyage.

The flight, which was the first full-scale test of the Aquila vehicle, actually took place about three weeks ago at the Yuma Proving Grounds in Yuma, Ariz. The company had been running test flights with a one-fifth scale model of the vehicle for several months, but the June flight represented the first time it had flown a full-scale version of the drone.

Internet from the Sky

During the low-altitude test flight, the drone remained airborne for 96 minutes, the company said, during which time it cruised at an altitude of about 2,150 feet above sea level, while consuming only 2,000 watts of power. The drone is designed to run on solar power during the day and battery power at night.

Eventually, however, the Aquila will reach a regular cruising altitude of 60,000 -- 90,000 feet, putting it far above both commercial flight lanes and any inclement weather, all while consuming only 5,000 watts, about the same amount of electricity needed to power a high-end microwave. The drones are designed to be deployed as a fleet of autonomous aircraft capable of delivering Internet connectivity to anyone within a 60-mile communication diameter for up to 90 days at a time.

We spoke with Omar Akhtar, analyst at the Altimeter Group, who told us the Aquila aircraft and the Connectivity Lab in general support the company's strategy of becoming synonymous with the entire Internet, not just social media. "Facebook wants to be a utility," Akhtar said.

Although the platform famously began its life...

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