Facebook's Internet.org, a project to bring connectivity to the unconnected parts of the world, just hit the one-year mark. To celebrate, the social media giant has unveiled the full-scale version of how that service will be delivered: a solar-powered drone with the wingspan of a Boeing 737 and the weight of a car.
The Aquila unmanned aerial vehicle is made of hyper-light carbon fiber, a reinforced plastic made to take a beating and weigh a deceptively small amount. The drone can fly at heights of 60,000 to 90,000 feet. If that wasn't already cool on its own, the Aquila looks just like the Valkyrie from Captain America: The First Avenger. Oh yeah, and it shoots lasers too.
But those lasers don't shoot other planes out of the sky — they're used to send Internet access. A ground station sends a radio and Internet signal up to a "mother" drone, which then transmits the signal to a sort of drone constellation, providing Internet and radio coverage to a large swath of land.
According to a Facebook update on the project, the drone is capable of beaming tens of gigabytes of data per second, by shooting a laser at a target the size of a dime over 10 miles away.
Instead of providing Internet service itself, Facebook's model now has the company positioned as a sort of middleman, letting Internet service providers buy or license the drones to sell Internet access in those untapped parts of the world. The limited but free Internet.org app is still available, in the hopes that it'll get subscribers interested in paying for more access.
Facebook's initiative could be a huge step toward providing up-to-date news and information to people who don't get to experience even a sliver of it — whether that's because they live in a desolate environment or because they're under an information-censorship regime. It may not be long before we finally get to hear the perspective of the tenth of the planet that's been largely silent in the digital age.