For big tech companies, drones are a shining, whirly emblem of the future. Amazon and Google say they would like to use them to deliver things to your doorstep, and now Facebook wants to use them to create Internet infrastructure.
Facebook reportedly has plans to buy Titan Aerospace, a company that makes “near-orbital, solar-powered drones which can fly for five years without needing to land,” for $60 million, according to TechCrunch. The basic idea is that these unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, would buzz over “the parts of the world without Internet access, beginning in Africa.”
TechCrunch suggests that they are less like UAVs, and more like miniature satellites designed to blanket the continent with Internet access as part of the social network’s Internet.org project, which aims to bring Internet access to the parts of the world that don’t yet have it. These solar-powered vessels would fly very, very high, parking themselves at altitudes up to 12 miles up, where they can soak up some sun. According to the plans, Facebook would like to launch 11,000 of Titan Aerospace’s “Solara 60” model, which can carry up to 250 pounds of equipment. Ostensibly this helps Facebook achieve its goal of connecting every man, woman, and child on Earth.
All of which could very well make for some very busy airspace. As Fast Company previously reported, Google is already partnering with the World Wildlife Federation to deploy drones in Nepal and Africa to fight ivory poachers, though these would fly at a lower altitude. Furthermore, Google, like Facebook, would similarly like to provide Internet access to undeveloped regions, but its approach is to use antenna-equipped solar-powered balloons. If anything else, the future of connectivity will cast a very large shadow–or, perhaps more accurately, 11,000 drone-shaped ones.