Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook team traveled to Yuma Arizona on a mission. The goal was to design, build and release a solar-powered high-altitude plane, with the hope of it one day offering internet access around the world via aircraft. About 24 people worked on Aquila, the name of the drone in locations from the UK to California.
The day Zuckerberg arrived was the first official test flight for the craft. Everyone watched with bated breath as the craft took off, stabilized and flew for 30 minutes prior to a successful landing. For Facebook this is the start of the company-wide goal of bringing the internet to every one of the more than 7-billion people residing on the planet, regardless of their location or income. Zuckerberg confirmed that the goal also is to bring people out of poverty by giving them education and increased health awareness.
To realize the dream, however, the next generation of tech will need more reliable internet connections along with higher bandwidth—something that drones can easily provide. It also opens the door for Facebook to create their new generation of VR, virtual reality and AI, artificial intelligence.
Aquila is impressive. The drone has a 141-foot wingspan—larger than a Boeing 737’s. Despite its huge width, the body is created from carbon fiber, which allows it to weigh just 900 pounds. A remote control is able to operate Aquila and keep her flying as slowly as possible (to enable long-term flight and use the least amount of energy).
In 2014 Zuckerberg first wrote about delivering the internet to people all around the world. He stated that high-altitude drones were the key to its delivery. They can fly closer to ground level than satellites, which provides stronger signals to larger populations. Just 26-months ago he set a goal to release the beta version of Aquila. By recruiting from MIT and NASA, he was able to bring the idea to life.
Although it was initially hoped that Aquila would be able to sustain air position for just one-half hour, in the end it maintained its altitude for 90-minutes. According to Zuckerberg and his team, this was a smashing success.