Facebook scraps plans to build Internet drones

Jun 29, 2018, 19:29
Facebook scraps plans to build Internet drones

"Facebook, along with many other companies and governments, is investing heavily to address the three key barriers to getting everyone, everywhere online", said Yael Maguire, a Facebook engineering director, in a post. "This means we will no longer design and build our own aircraft, and, as a result, we've closed our facility in Bridgewater [England]".

It comes after Google in early 2017 also made a decision to shut down its internet drone project (formerly Titan Aerospace), and instead focus on its balloon-driven Loon initiative.

The company also said it will continue to work in its high altitude platform system a.k.a HAPS which beam down Internet via systems installed in aircraft.

The Project Aquila craft had the wingspan of a Boeing 737 and weighed the same as a typical family vehicle.

Facebook bought the company in March 2014 for £12 million to further its Project Aquila project.

In testing the drone managed 90 minutes in the air, but ultimately paled in comparison to technology developed by rival Silicon Valley firms.

Per TechCrunch, critics have questioned whether the Aquila project was thought up in an era where Facebook's ascendancy had not yet hit significant roadblocks and whether less grandiose plans like "laying fibre or establishing basic infrastructure" were more realistic and could reach more customers.

He explained that while Facebook may not physically manufacture drones, the company is still very much committed to the notion of bringing internet access to those who need it, by focusing "on the other technologies needed to make this system work, like flight control computers and high-density batteries".

The first test flight in Arizona in June 2016 launched and flew as expected, though turbulence before touchdown resulted in the drone landing short of the runway and receiving damage to the right wing in the process.

In 2016 for its inaugural 90-minute flight over the Arizona desert, the Aquila drone unfortunately crashed landed, which the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in the USA blamed on "an increasing amount of turbulence". Since the program was relatively cheap for a company Facebook's size, the tests must have been a catastrophe.

Facebook's revelation about Aquila came after Business Insider reported on upheaval at the project, including the departure of its leader and a planned redesign. Then it says its own efforts are over but that it will continue to work within the industry, though it is not clear how.

Maguire says the company is also "actively participating in a number of aviation advisory boards and rule-making committees in the U.S. and internationally".

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