Solar aircraft test flight paves the way for internet drones

Luminati Aerospace wants robotic aircraft that never land.

AP Photo/Frank Eltman

Solar Impulse 2 isn't the only Sun-powered aircraft reaching a milestone this week. Luminati Aerospace has conducted a public test flight of its prototype solar aircraft, the VO-Substrata, that represents a stepping stone toward drones that supply internet access. While this early design has a pilot, Luminati eventually wants to make pilotless vehicles that fly as high as 60,000 feet and never need to land. If all goes well, manufacturing starts soon as the end of 2016.

Luminati is far from the only company diving into internet drones -- just ask Facebook. However, its effort is bound to raise a few eyebrows. It has the help of multiple public and private organizations (including Georgia Tech and MIT), and there's reportedly a mysterious tech company helping out behind the scenes. Provided Luminati fulfills its ambitions, it could play a significant role in getting people online in corners of the world where reliable internet access is rare.