There are an estimated five billion people worldwide who lack reliable internet access but Facebook is reportedly “ready to spend billions” in order to change that. The Menlo Park-based company has recently announced plans to deliver global connectivity on the backs of enormous, solar-powered UAV, dubbed project Aquila. The plan is still very much in its initial planning stages but Facebook appears to be dedicated to making it a reality. Facebook acquired UAV maker Ascenta last year as its in-house drone design team and has already set them to work developing a platform capable of spending up to three months aloft while cruising at altitudes between 60,000 to 90,000 feet. Each UAV is expected to have a wingspan rivaling Boeing 767 (about 156 feet from tip to tip) but only weigh about as much as a Kia.
The company figures about 1,000 of these high fliers should suffice in blanketing the Earth with high-speed connectivity. Facebook is also reportedly looking at potential satellite deployments if any regions prove too remote or inhospitable for the internet drones to handle. “We want to serve every person in the world” Yael Maguire, head of Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, told the New York Times. Initial test flights are already scheduled for this summer, though we’re still potentially years (maybe decades) away from seeing this become an actual thing. Facebook faces competition from Google’s Project Loon, which leverages high-altitude weather balloons instead of UAVs to deliver high-speed internet. But whichever system comes to market first (and even if they both do), five billion people will be better off for it.