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Facebook Finally Launches An Enormous, Internet-Beaming Drone

You’re likely familiar with the ambitious plan of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, to ensure that the entire planet has internet within reach. His mission has weathered its share of critics (mostly related to net neutrality) but like it or lump it, a 140-foot drone named Aquila just came a step closer to making it a reality.

As WIRED reports, Zuckerberg and a small crew of Facebook execs were on-hand for Aquila’s maiden voyage over the Sonoran Desert, the culmination of many months of trial, error, and recalibration. Before this voyage, Facebook flew 23 test drone flights of a much smaller size.

Facebook and Google have both been racing to fine-tune their own globe-blanketing internet coverage. Google has tinkered with high-altitude balloons for this very purpose (First successful act of these balloons—screening the movie Real Genius 60 feet in the sky).

Both companies have borne the expected criticism that their supposedly altruistic missions are simply furthering the reach of their respective services (Facebook in the rainforest!) That said, there are an estimated 1.6 billion people without mobile high-speed internet; whatever the motives, many people stand to be brought up to speed with their global compatriots.

Aquila is only one of Facebook’s “internet everywhere” explorations—WIRED reports they’re also looking at satellites, lasers and wireless antennas—but it’s one they’ve put a lot of hope (and investment) in. This 96-minute drone flight, extended longer when engineers realized they had enough battery juice, was loudly trumpeted by Facebook as a grand success. On top of its other attributes, this solar-powered vehicle only uses about as much energy as a hair dryer.

There is still extensive testing and some logistical hurdles before Facebook’s prototype is ready to start bringing wifi to the Andes. And it should be noted that the company doesn’t plan to build or operate its own drones. They will simply make their blueprints widely available—the world of commerce can take it from there.

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