We’ve known about Facebook’s plans to spread the Internet by drone for roughly a year now, but on Thursday the company offered the first real details during its F8 developer conference. Made by British firm Ascenta, which the social network acquired last year, each drone uses laser technology to bring Internet access to still-developing parts of the world.
The current drone design, referred to for now as Aquila, is about as big as a Boeing 767 airplane but lighter than a regular car, Mark Zuckerberg said, noting that the company has already executed successful test flights. Facebook says each drone will fly above 60,000 feet in the air for up to three months thanks to built-in solar panels, and provide Internet for up to 90,000 people at a time. They’ll also co-ordinate automatically between drones to cover as much ground as possible.
It’s an impressive concept, though Facebook is already lagging pretty far behind Google’s own Project Loon. The search giant already has its Internet balloons in the air, and may be ready for an official launch in the near future. Each balloon can also stay in the air for six months, and provides 4G Internet to a region the size of Rhode Island.
Facebook will need to move fast if it wants to catch up. The company says the first Aquila test flights will kick off this summer.