05 Mar 2014
Facebook is in negotiations to buy a drone manufacturer with the aim of using its high-altitude autonomous aircraft to beam internet connections to isolated communities in Africa, according to reports.
The social networking company is one of the main backers of theinternet.org project, which aims to connect the large parts of the world which remain offline.
Today, only 2.7 billion people – just over one-third of the world’s population – have access to the internet, according to Facebook. Other founding members include Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung.
Now TechCrunch reports that Facebook intends to buy the maker of advanced solar-powered drones which can remain in the air for up to five years at a time, in the hope that they can be modified to provide internet connectivity for those on the ground.
Titan Aerospace’s drones fly so high – up to 65,000 feet – that they can effectively operate as satellites with far lower operating costs, which the company calls “atmospheric parking”. The Solara 50 and 60 models can carry up to 100kg of equipment.
TechCrunch reports that Facebook intends to build 11,000 of the drones to provide blanket internet coverage to parts of the world that currently have patchy or non-existent connections.
Neither Facebook or Titan Aerospace were available for comment.
The project would be in direct competition with Google’s Project Loon, which will see 30 balloons launched into the stratosphere where they would form a network and programmed to use varying wind currents at different altitudes to remain in a geostationary position.
If successful, the project would provide 3G-like speeds to isolated parts of the world. But the lifespan of the balloons would be just 100 days, after which they would return to Earth and have to be replaced.