Buried in the comments on Mark Zuckerberg’s very public New Year’s resolution is quite the announcement: Facebook still plans to launch solar-powered, internet-beaming, laser-communicating drones. Depending a bit on how you interpret unorthodox syntax, Zuckerberg claims that he’s expecting this development — “and more” — later this year.
These aircraft boast the wingspan of a 737 and — thanks to carbon fiber, no cabin space, and very few components — only a fraction of the weight. They circulate 60,000 to 90,000 feet above the Earth (a safe distance above airliners) for as long as three months. And they transmit internet to remote, disconnected regions for the duration of the flight.
The drones, according to Jay Parikh, communicate with one another via lasers:
[Our laser communications team] designed and lab-tested a laser that can deliver data at 10s of Gb per second — approximately 10x faster than the previous state-of-the-art in the industry — to a target the size of a dime from more than 10 miles away. We are now starting to test these lasers in real-world conditions. When finished, our laser communications system can be used to connect our aircraft with each other and with the ground, making it possible to create a stratospheric network that can extend to even the remotest regions of the world.
Zuckerberg says that he hopes it would cost “nothing on top of what you already pay for internet.” He adds: “The real customers for this would be people who don’t have access to the internet today though, so we want to get it as cheap as possible so more people can get online.”
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