Facebook and Internet.org announce flying internet
By Stu Robarts
March 28, 2014
The Connectivity Lab team at Facebook has been working on new technologies to improve and increase internet access across the globe. Proposed solutions include solar-powered drones and geosynchronous satellites, both of which would be able to beam internet access to earth. The announcement was made yesterday by Mark Zuckerberg, on behalf of the Internet.org partnership.
Internet.org was established last year with the aim of bringing internet access to the two-thirds of the world's population that doesn't currently have access. The partnership includes technology leaders, non-profit organizations, local communities and experts. Its founding partners include Ericsson, Samsung and Nokia.
Zuckerberg has been very much the spokesman for the Internet.org partnership since its inception and, earlier this month, Gizmag reported that Facebook was in talks to buy Titan Aerospace, a company that manufactures solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicles. Yesterday's announcement reinforces Facebook's commitment to the cause.
The Connectivity Lab was begun using the same engineering talent behind Facebook’s infrastructure team and the Open Compute Project. In addition, the team comprises UK-based high-altitude long-endurance aircraft firm Ascenta, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA, the Ames Research Center at NASA and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.
The team has been working on solar-powered high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft that can remain in the air for months at a time with a view to deploying them to provide reliable internet access to suburban areas in limited geographical regions. Low-Earth orbit and geosynchronous satellites are being investigated as a means of providing internet access to lower density areas.
For each of these approaches, the team is exploring the use of free-space optical communication (FSO), which employs invisible infra-red laser beams, as a means of transmitting data. According to Internet.org, "FSO is a promising technology that potentially allows us to dramatically boost the speed of internet connections provided by satellites and drones."
In the video below, Facebook's Yael Maguire talks about the technologies that Internet.org is working on.