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Facebook completes first solar-powered drone flight in the UK

Fri 27 Mar 2015

Facebook drone

Social networking giant Facebook has been busy testing its solar-powered drones in UK skies, CEO Mark Zuckerberg confirmed yesterday in an official blog post.

The drones use lasers to fire out beams of internet access to the ground, in a bid to provide connectivity to rural and other isolated locations.

“As part of our Internet.org effort to connect the world, we’ve designed unmanned aircraft that can beam internet access down to people from the sky,” Zuckerberg wrote in his Facebook post. “We’ve successfully completed our first test flight of these aircraft in the UK.”

Built in collaboration with Somerset-based drone designer Ascenta, bought by Facebook in March last year, the machines will be able to fly at up to 60,000 feet in altitude for months at a time, running completely on solar power. Despite their wingspan measuring over 29 metres, matching the span of a Boeing 737, the solar-powered drones will weigh less than a car.

“Aircraft like these will help connect the whole world because they can affordably serve the 10% of the world’s population that live in remote communities without existing internet infrastructure,” Zuckerberg continued.

The drone project forms part of Facebook’s internet.org initiative looking to bring internet access to remote places and explore ways to provide access to people who aren’t yet connected.

Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer explained to delegates at the F8 Developers Conference in San Francisco that the company’s artificial intelligence team was working on ways to prepare for the surge in internet users and the subsequent overload of information.

“If we achieve our first goal, get everyone on the internet, build services at scale for the entire planet, we create this new problem: so much information you can’t consume the stuff that’s important to you,” said Schroepfer.

Rival firm Google is also furthering its research into use of drones and balloons to provide internet access in challenging areas in its Project Loon programme.

The two U.S. companies will continue their race to become the first to connect more users to their services and create fresh audiences for marketers.

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