Facebook may be a business powerhouse, with its stock having recently settled in well above its pre-Cambridge Analytica high, but that doesn’t mean Mark Zuckerberg’s company is immune to financial realities.
Today, it announced that it’s shuttering the Aquila program, which aimed to design and build 737-sized drones that could beam internet to the ground, and, according to Business Insider, laying off 16 people in the process.
In typical Facebook fashion, director of engineering Yael Maguire dropped the news as part of a very cheery-sounding blog post that lauded the company’s work–and that of others–in developing systems to bring internet connectivity to developing nations. The blog post even bragged about Aquila’s “two successful full-scale test flights, including a textbook landing on ‘Aquila beach.'” That wouldn’t be such a surprising statement except for the fact that the first of those two flights resulted in a crash landing in 2016 that more or less destroyed one of the drones and resulted in an NTSB investigation.
In any case, word of the program’s end is buried deep in the fifth paragraph of Maguire’s post, titled “High altitude connectivity: the next chapter,” in which he notes, after several hundred words about what the Aquila team achieved, that “we’ve decided not to design or build our own aircraft any longer.”
Faceboook will continue to do work on high-altitude connectivity, Maguire quickly added, working with partners like Airbus. But if you had hoped that Zuck’s company was going to be flying those giant solar-powered aircraft in the future, I’m afraid I have to dash your hopes.