Facebook Tests Solar-Powered Internet Drones, Wider Than a Jumbo Jet

Artist's impression of Facebook Aquila drone
Artist's impression of Facebook Aquila drone Facebook

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says the company has successfully tested a prototype solar-powered drone which will help to connect far flung reaches of the planet to the internet, and will be able to fly for three months via solar power.

The social network is planning to begin testing the real thing - named Aquila - in the summer. Zuckerberg said the unmanned aerial vehicle will have a wingspan comparable to a 737 jumbo jet, weigh less than a small car, and will transmit broadband from the sky.

Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post: "It will be powered by solar panels on its wings and it will be able to stay at altitudes of more than 60,000 feet for months at a time."

Mike Schroepfer, Facebook's chief technology officer said in a keynote speech at F8, the company's developer conference in San Francisco yesterday: "We need to build services that scale to the entire planet. Services that are truly at a planetary scale and we need to connect all those onto the internet who aren't connected yet."

And the company say their unmanned aerial vehicle will be able to affordably provide internet access to hard to reach regions where ground based internet infrastructure would be too costly. It claims between 1.1 and 2.8 billion people don't have access to internet data.

The drone is being built by the team with the record for the longest lasting solar powered flight - UK-based company Ascenta which was bought by Facebook last year.

Battling Facebook for the currently untapped market in unconnected regions, rival internet giant Google also has plans to beam the internet down from on high. Its Project Loon, which intends to deliver the internet from balloons that will stay afloat near the upper edges of the Earth's atmosphere, began large-scale testing in 2013.