TECH
07/31/2015 02:34 pm ET

Facebook Drone With Frickin' Internet Lasers Ready For Testing

Over the centuries, many projects with stratospheric ambitions, from pneumatic trains to space ships -- have come to naught. Facebook's project to provide airborne Internet to remote regions through an autonomous aircraft, however, is ready to launch. In a video posted to his Facebook account on Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company behind the world's largest social network had completed construction of its first full-scale aircraft, named Aquila. 

I'm excited to announce we’ve completed construction of our first full scale aircraft, Aquila, as part of our Internet.org effort. Aquila is a solar powered unmanned plane that beams down internet connectivity from the sky. It has the wingspan of a Boeing 737, but weighs less than a car and can stay in the air for months at a time. We've also made a breakthrough in laser communications technology. We've successfully tested a new laser that can transmit data at 10 gigabits per second. That's ten times faster than any previous system, and it can accurately connect with a point the size of a dime from more than 10 miles away.This effort is important because 10% of the world’s population lives in areas without existing internet infrastructure. To affordably connect everyone, we need to build completely new technologies. Using aircraft to connect communities using lasers might seem like science fiction. But science fiction is often just science before its time. Over the coming months, we will test these systems in the real world and continue refining them so we can turn their promise into reality. Here’s a video showing the building of Aquila.

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday, July 30, 2015

 Zuckerberg also shared the news that Facebook had made a breakthrough in using lasers for communication.

"We've successfully tested a new laser that can transmit data at 10 gigabits per second," he said. "That's 10 times faster than any previous system, and it can accurately connect with a point the size of a dime from more than 10 miles away."

As Facebook's founder noted, the creation of an unmanned, solar-powered aircraft that is as wide as a Boing 737, weighs less than a car, flies in Earth's stratosphere for up to 90 days at a time and beams down Internet connectivity to the Earth below using a laser sounds like a great plot device for an epic science fiction tale. But it's real, and was built in just 14 months, according to The New York Times.

Soon, Aquila will launch, carrying with it Facebook's ambitions of bringing the Internet to hundreds of millions of people who live in remote regions. Here's hoping its flight more closely resembles that of its namesake, the eagle of the Greek god Zeus, than that of Icarus, the young man who flew too close to the sun. 

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