In what is a huge step forward for the ambitious Internet.org project, Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) recently confirmed a successful second full-scale test flight of its Aquila drone. According to the post, the aircraft flew for a total duration of 1 hour and 46 minutes on May 22, with a successful landing at the end.
So what is Aquila? It is a drone project which is created by Facebook and debuted back in 2015 to aid in their Internet.org project. This project aims to provide internet connectivity to all parts of the globe, including all remote areas. The Aquila drone forms the very basis of this project.
Facebook plans to launch these drones 60,000 feet into the atmosphere, where they will stay for months owing to their solar powered nature. This web of Aquila drones will then communicate with one another, providing internet connectivity to everybody within a 60-mile radius.
Aquila has the wingspan of a Boeing 737 airplane and it is almost entirely composed of a carbon fibre composite. Facebook is reportedly planning to make future iterations even lighter.
This marks the second test flight for the Aquila. The first test flight occurred in June 2016. However, the first flight was unsuccessful, ending in a crash and damage to the drone due to heavy winds which led to an autopilot malfunction. As a result, Facebook made changes to the drone design, adding spoilers to the wings in order to increase drag and reduce lift during landings. They also updated the autopilot software, as well as overhauling the communication radio. These changes helped the Aquila to rise to 3,000 feet at a climb rate of 180 ft/min, nearly double the climb rate of the first test flight.
This time around, Facebook engineers also added numerous sensors to the drone in a bid to collect more data. The data is, reportedly, to help the team tweak their aerodynamic models and optimise battery and solar array size. This is crucial since the Aquila is the first of its kind, capable of flying for months at a time.
While the ambitious Internet.org project is still years away from fruition, this marks a seminal moment in the quest for universal internet access. As of now, only about 50% of the world’s population uses the internet. This is mostly due to poor connectivity and lack of availability, especially in developing parts of the world. The Internet.org project seeks to address this issue and provide basic internet to everyone in the world, free of cost. If Facebook can pull it off, it will truly be a marvel of modern technology.