Facebook has suspended its internet via Drone experiment Aquila in an announcement posted to Facebook Code on Tuesday. Aquila was part of Facebook's Internet.org initiative, which is seeking to connect more people to the internet in unserved and underserved markets.
The project, which started in 2014, faced significant difficulties getting off the ground, which Facebook's statement concedes "has involved a lot of trial and error." Andy Cox, the engineer responsible for the project, as well as Martin Gomez, Facebook's director of aeronautics, left the company last month.
The first test flight in Arizona in June 2016 launched and flew as expected, though turbulence before touchdown resulted in the drone landing short of the runway and receiving damage to the right wing in the process. A second test flight of a different model drone in May 2017, did not crash, though apparently suffered dings during landing, according to a post by Gomez at the time.
The Aquila drones are slightly larger than a Boeing 737 in terms of wingspan, though they lack the standard landing gear that aircraft typically have as part of an effort to reduce weight. Instead, they are intended to land on specially designed kevlar pads.
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According to a report by Business Insider, which obtained documents relating to the operation through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, this design was apparently being abandoned as of September 2017 following requests for changing the environment at Spaceport America for future tests. Additionally, the emails detailed difficulties working around nesting birds and archaeological sites.
The same reports indicate that Facebook's relationship with Spaceport America subsequently ended, which Facebook confirmed. In November 2017, Facebook announced a partnership with Airbus to deliver internet connectivity from the air, which they confirmed will continue following the closure of Aquila.
While Aquila has ended, and references to delivery of internet via drone removed from slides presented at Facebook's F8 developer conference, Facebook is continuing work on the component parts of the infrastructure needed to deliver internet connectivity from the air. Additionally, according to their statement, "On the policy front, we'll be working on a proposal for 2019 World Radio Conference to get more spectrum for HAPS [High altitude platform stations], and we'll be actively participating in a number of aviation advisory boards and rule-making committees in the US and internationally."
Meanwhile, Project Loon, a similar endeavor of Google's parent company Alphabet, is being deployed in Puerto Rico in an attempt to restore internet connectivity following the infrastructure damage caused by Hurricane Maria last September.
Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
- Facebook has suspended the internet via Drone experiment Aquila, which was part of an initiative seeking to connect people in underserved markets to the internet.
- Both Aquila test flights in Arizona faced difficulties during the landing phase, which caused varying degrees of damage to the drones.
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James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.