Facebook Looks To Drones, Lasers To Spread The Net

by CXOtoday News Desk    Mar 28, 2014

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Facebook is harnessing satellites, drones and lasers to spread Internet connectivity to people in the remotest parts of the world, as part of its ambitious Internet.org initiative. The social network giant has hired top aerospace experts, including experts from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and its Ames Research Center for the new “Connectivity Lab” project.

According to reports, the lab will also work with a team from UK-based company Ascenta that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says will work on connectivity aircrafts. The team is said to have worked on an earlier version of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) Zephyr, which holds the record for the longest flight by any UAV.

The Connectivity Lab team is reportedly working on projects like satellites or solar-powered aircrafts that will stay in the sky for months, to deliver Internet access. One method the lab is looking at is Free-space optical communication (FSO), a technique of using light to transmit data through space using infrared beams.

Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page: “We’ve made good progress so far. Over the past year, our work in the Philippines and Paraguay alone has doubled the number of people using mobile data with the operators we’ve partnered with, helping 3 million new people access the Internet.”

It was previously rumored that Facebook would buy Titan Aerospace, which manufacturers “near-orbital, solar-powered drones,” to work on a similar project. However, there has been no confirmation of the deal.

Internet.org, launched in August 2013,  is a joint initiative to make access to the Internet affordable and efficient. Facebook has partnered with Samsung, Nokia, MediaTek, Opera Software, Qualcomm and Ericson on the project.

A similar initiative called Project Loon was launched by Google later in 2013. Although Google was not a part of the Internet.org effort, it launched a similar undertaking earlier this year that uses a network of weather balloons, which are currently aloft over the South Pacific. The aim was to connect “everyone on earth online.”

At the recent Mobile World Congress, Zuckerberg mentioned that access connectivity is not the primary obstacle to getting the world online, as over 80% of the world’s population live in areas with 2G or 3G wireless access. Connectivity, he said can transform the economic landscape as people will have basic financial services, access to health care information and educational, besides multiple other benefits.

 

Facebook’s new projects underscores the company’s rising ambitions to exert its influence beyond the confines of its 1.2 billion-member social network and to set the pace for new technology that will shape society, says a recent Reuters report. Earlier this week, the company announced plans to acquire Oculus VR Inc, a maker of virtual reality goggles that Facebook hopes could become the computing platform of the future.