Facebook Wants to Bring the World Internet With Robot Drones

The social-media network is spending $60 million on solar-powered drones that can stay aloft for five years.

National Journal
Alex Brown
March 4, 2014, 3:34 a.m.

Face­book from the sky could soon be a real­ity.

The so­cial-me­dia gi­ant is seek­ing a $60 mil­lion deal to pur­chase drone-maker Ti­tan Aerospace, whose sol­ar-powered drones can spend up to five con­sec­ut­ive years in the sky. Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, it’s part of the In­ter­net.org ini­ti­at­ive to bring af­ford­able Web ac­cess to the world’s de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

Ti­tan dubs its autonom­ous drone a “cell tower in the sky,” of­fer­ing the reach of 100 ground-based towers with its 65,000-foot alti­tude. It’s un­clear what sort of range it would be able to provide for In­ter­net ac­cess.

Ac­cord­ing to one re­port, Face­book wants to build 11,000 of the com­pany’s Sol­ara 60 mod­els. That mod­el, ac­cord­ing to Ti­tan, can put a 250-pay­load — say, com­mu­nic­a­tions equip­ment with an In­ter­net sig­nal — in­to “at­mo­spher­ic park­ing,” es­sen­tially per­form­ing the func­tion of a com­mu­nic­a­tions satel­lite with min­im­al cost.

Some have spec­u­lated the drones could be used to get mil­lions of new In­ter­net users hooked on What­s­App — the mes­saging ser­vice Face­book pur­chased for $19 bil­lion last month.

Face­book isn’t the first to try to bring people In­ter­net from the sky. One plan — known as Out­er­net — hopes hun­dreds of tiny satel­lites will do the job.

This 2013 Na­tion­al Journ­al graph­ic helps ex­plain how Ti­tan’s drones op­er­ate.

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