Facebook Is Testing a Solar-Powered Internet-Beaming Drone

Facebook Is Testing a Solar-Powered Internet-Beaming Drone

Handout photo of Facebook drone Aquila
By Millie Dent

Imagine looking up at the sky and seeing a 900 lb. drone the size of Boeing 737 moving in slow circles 11 miles above you. As part of Facebook’s plan to provide Internet access to the 4 billion people who currently lack it, that could soon be the reality for the 10 percent of Earth’s population that lives far from cell towers or fiber optic lines. 

Researchers at Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, a division of Facebook’s Internet.org, announced yesterday that the first such drone has been completed as a step toward building a larger fleet. The craft hasn’t been flown yet, but Facebook has been testing versions one-tenth the size over the U.K. and plans on beginning flight tests of the full-size craft before the end of this year. 

Related: 12 Weird Uses for Drones 

The drone, termed Aquila (Latin for “Eagle), is a solar-powered V-shaped carbon fiber craft that will carry equipment such as solar panels and communications gear that can beam down wireless Internet connectivity. Lacking wheels or the ability to climb, the drone will be launched using helium balloons and will be able to fly for 90 days at a time. 

One of the biggest breakthroughs in the project has been the team developing a way to increase the data capacity of the lasers involved. The new system allows a ground-based laser to transmit information to a dome on the underside of the plane at 10 GB per second, about 10 times faster than previously thought possible. 

Facebook’s mission isn’t without controversy. Worldwide, critics have been questioning many of Internet.org’s practices on privacy, fairness and security grounds. Those opponents fear that users of Internet.org might be monitored through state-run telecoms, in some cases allowing countries to spy on and repress their citizens. In addition, first-time users of the Internet might confuse Facebook for the entire Internet and only receive news and information from the one site. 

The flack Internet.org is receiving isn’t the only problem Facebook has to deal with. Rival Google also has a project in the works to bring wireless Internet to rural communities. Their program, called “Project Loon,” involves high-altitude helium balloons that have transmitters attached to them. Although the project hasn’t been launched yet, it’s in more advanced stages than Aquila. 

Watch the video from Facebook’s Connectivity Lab:

Chart of the Day: Long Way to Go on Coronavirus Testing

Healthcare workers with ChristianaCare test people with symptoms of the coronavirus in a drive-thru in the parking lot of Chase
Jennifer Corbett
By The Fiscal Times Staff

The White House on Friday unveiled plans for a new effort to ramp up testing for Covid-19, which experts say is an essential part of limiting the spread of the virus. This chart from Vox gives a sense of just how far the U.S. has to go to catch up to other countries that are dealing with the pandemic, including South Korea, the leading virus screener with 3,692 tests per million people. The U.S., by comparison, has done about 23 tests per million people as of March 12.

After Spending $2 Billion, Air Force Bails Out on Planned Upgrades of B-2 Bombers

The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber flies over the Missouri Sky after taking off from the Whiteman Air For..
© Hyungwon Kang / Reuters
By The Fiscal Times Staff

The Air Force has scrapped a planned upgrade of its B-2 stealth bomber fleet — even after spending $2 billion on the effort — because defense contractor Northrup Grumman didn’t have the necessary software expertise to complete the project on time and on budget, Bloomberg’s Anthony Capaccio reports, citing the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer.

Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters that the nearly $2 billion that had already been spent on the program wasn’t wasted because “we are still going to get upgraded electronic displays.”

Big Hurdle for Sanders’ Plan to Cancel Student Debt

Chip East / REUTERS
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Bernie Sanders wants to eliminate $1.6 trillion in student debt, to be paid for by a tax on financial transactions, but doing so won’t be easy, says Josh Mitchell of The Wall Street Journal.  

The main problem for Sanders is that most Americans don’t support the plan, with 57% of respondents in a poll last fall saying they oppose the idea of canceling all student debt. And the politics are particularly thorny for Sanders as he prepares for a likely general election run, Mitchell says: “Among the strongest opponents are groups Democrats hope to peel away from President Trump: Rust Belt voters, independents, whites, men and voters in rural areas.”

Number of the Day: $7 Million

NY mayor cites climate stance in endorsing Obama
By The Fiscal Times Staff

That’s how much Michael Bloomberg is spending per day in his pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination, according to new monthly filings with the Federal Election Commission. “In January alone, Bloomberg dropped more than $220 million on his free-spending presidential campaign,” The Hill says. “That breaks down to about $7.1 million a day, $300,000 an hour or $5,000 per minute.”