Facebook made a solar-powered plane to deliver internet

Updated ·3 min read

Facebook started teasing its internet-beaming planes last year, but now we're seeing one that it actually built. Pictured above is Aquila, a solar-powered, 140-foot unmanned plane that's designed to deliver internet connectivity from altitudes of 60,000 to 90,000 feet. The UAV, which has the wingspan of a Boeing 737 and weighs roughly 880 pounds, will be able to circle a specific area for up to 90 days when deployed -- a feat possible thanks to its dependence on nothing but solar energy. What's also interesting is how it gets up in the air; Facebook says it uses a balloon to carry Aquila to the aforementioned altitude range, although it's still unclear how the Federal Aviation Administration plans to control this type of traffic.

I'm excited to announce we've completed construction of our first full scale aircraft, Aquila, as part of our Internet.org effort. Aquila is a solar powered unmanned plane that beams down internet connectivity from the sky. It has the wingspan of a Boeing 737, but weighs less than a car and can stay in the air for months at a time. We've also made a breakthrough in laser communications technology. We've successfully tested a new laser that can transmit data at 10 gigabits per second. That's ten times faster than any previous system, and it can accurately connect with a point the size of a dime from more than 10 miles away.This effort is important because 10% of the world's population lives in areas without existing internet infrastructure. To affordably connect everyone, we need to build completely new technologies. Using aircraft to connect communities using lasers might seem like science fiction. But science fiction is often just science before its time. Over the coming months, we will test these systems in the real world and continue refining them so we can turn their promise into reality. Here's a video showing the building of Aquila.

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday, July 30, 2015

Aquila is only part of Facebook's current strategy to "connect the world," and its idea is to have a full fleet roaming the skies in the future. Then there's Internet.org, a project led by the social network that brings free, basic web access to underdeveloped countries -- which has faced detractors along the way. Finally, you've got Facebook's laser project, which it says recently transmitted data at up to 10 Gbps, ten times faster than previous systems.

Regardless, Facebook is expected to test Aquila in the US later this year, but it is unclear as to when exactly that will be. "We still have a long way to go in this work, but we are excited by our early progress," Facebook said in a blog post. "We plan to engage with the broader community and share what we've learned, so we can all move faster in the development of these technologies."