Facebook Unveils Internet Drone Lab

Solar-powered drones for Internet.org aim to connect countries to networks.

internet.org drone.

Connectivity Lab will develop satellites, lasers and solar-powered drones to “beam internet to people from the sky." 

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled his latest contribution to the Internet.org partnership to expand Web access by announcing Connectivity Lab, which will develop satellites, lasers and solar-powered drones to “beam internet to people from the sky,” he said.

Internet.org is a partnership between Facebook and mobile phone companies Qualcomm, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera Software and Samsung. In 2013 only 40 percent of people on the planet used the Internet, many of them in Europe, Canada and the U.S., according to the International Telecommunications Union, so the mission of Internet.org is to bring affordable access to the remaining 60 percent, many of whom are in underdeveloped regions.  

[READ: Zuckerberg Latest to Aim for Universal Internet Access]

In a post on his Facebook page Thursday, Zuckerberg said the group has already helped 3 million new people connect to the Internet in the Philippines and Paraguay alone, and the Connectivity Lab at Facebook will include experts from NASA and the team that built Zephyr, “which became the world’s longest flying solar-powered unmanned aircraft.”

Solar-powered drones that can fly “for months at a time,” combined with networks of lasers and satellites will help solve logistics problems for network infrastructure, including the need to maintain a constant connection between relay stations on Earth and satellites that orbit the planet, said a video message from Yael Maguire, a director of engineering at Facebook.

“What we want to do is challenge all these assumptions to change the way in which we think about distributing the Internet,” Maguire said.

Connecting people to the Internet using flying machines is also a goal of Google, which in 2013 announced Project Loon to beam network signals from high-altitude balloons.