Why Facebook Is Building A Drone Army

Facebook's new Connectivity Lab wants to use airplanes, satellites, and lasers to blanket the world with Internet access.

Facebook has spent this first stretch of 2014 beefing up its tech bona fides. In order, it has reportedly purchased:

Branch, a link-sharing service ($15 million)
WhatsApp, a chat app ($19 billion)
Titan AeroSpace, a drone manufacturer ($60 million)
Oculus VR, makers of the Rift virtual reality headset ($2 billion)

Most of those were a bit confusing in their own way. But late Thursday evening Facebook introduced a new initiative called the Connectivity Lab, which helps clear up some of the questions of why a social network would bunker down on an airplane company.

"Today, we're sharing some details of the work Facebook's Connectivity Lab is doing to build drones, satellites and lasers to deliver the Internet to everyone," said Mark Zuckerberg in a status update. "Our goal with Internet.org is to make affordable access to basic Internet services available to every person in the world."

Working in countries like the Philippines and Paraguay, Facebook claims to have already helped bring Internet access to 3 million people who didn't have it before. The most interesting part to me, though, is this video from the Connectivity Lab, which does a nice job of illustrating why Facebook became interested in drones in the first place:

"Moonshots" are a hot phrase for tech companies these days, referring originally to some of Google's more ambitious projects, like, say, cheating death. But for as high as Facebook's Connectivity Lab and its new autonomous robots fly, it is all grounded in Zuckerberg's earthly goal of actually connecting people. (Well, that and dictating the terms of Internet infrastructure.) That's at least worth a Like, right?

Editor's note: Facebook did not confirm its purchase of Titan AeroSpace. An earlier version of this post said the purchase had been completed. In fact, Google announced its plan to acquire Titan AeroSpace on April 14. Facebook did, however, hire talent from drone maker Ascenta, to help with the Connectivity Lab.

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