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Facebook Plans Remote Coverage via Drones

A consortium including Facebook and Qualcomm wants to launch solar-powered atmospheric satellite drones that can carry equipment for relaying wireless networks in remote areas that currently have no Internet connections. Larry Greenemeier reports

 

Two out of three people in the world cannot connect to the Internet. Not because of crummy service, but rather because in the remote areas where they live there is no service.
 
To come up with ways to deliver data services to underserved areas Facebook, Qualcomm and others formed Internet.org.

Facebook’s big idea is to launch solar-powered atmospheric satellite drones that can carry equipment for relaying wireless networks. To get the hardware, the social network is buying atmosat-maker Titan Aerospace for $60 million. 
 
Rather than just buying a fleet of Titan’s Solara drones, Facebook is trying to accelerate their development. Titan has said its atmosats wouldn’t be ready for customers until next year.
 
But building an autonomous aircraft that can stay aloft for years at a time isn’t easy. Just ask the U.S. Defense Department and Boeing. They spent about five years and tens of millions of dollars trying to get their high-flying, solar-powered Vulture aircraft off the ground. But in 2012 DARPA decided to instead focus on further developing only the photovoltaic and energy storage systems meant for the Vulture.
 
That said, being “liked” by Facebook should help the Solara drones soar.

—Larry Greenemeier

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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