Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is pushing on his goal to connect the world through his philanthropic organization, Internet.org.
At the company’s F8 developer conference held in San Francisco, Facebook vice president of engineering Jay Parikh talked a little more about Aquila’s development, and how it would use laser links to bring the internet to rural areas in developing countries.
The full wingspan of the aircraft will be 139 feet, Zuckerberg says, but the center pod (which presumably contains most of the internal components) is only 10.8 feet wide.
Aquila will be able to use solar panels on its wings to stay in the air for 3-6 months, and should work in all weather condition.
According to Parikh, Facebook’s UAV platform looks like a giant boomerang.
“We need to fly it for months at a time,” he said, “so we had to invent a new aircraft to accomplish this; most aircraft aren’t designed to fly for months and beam lasers across the sky to bring Internet to rural communities.”
At this point, the plane, about the size of a passenger jet, is nothing but wing:
“We took off the tail,” Parikh said, “that saves mass and drag, but makes it hard to steer, so we had to do a ton of work in steering components.”
The Facebook engineers also removed the cockpit, he said, a sophisticated flight control system to replace it, and eliminated fuel tanks, the drone will be solar powered.
Which leaves the wing.
“We built that out of carbon fiber,” Parikh said, “to make it light—and to look cool.”
Aquila will connect by laser to an internet access point in a city, then feed that connection out to rural communities.
Eventually, he says, the drones will extend the networks by connecting to each other with lasers.