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Facebook Builds UAS That Beams Down Wi-Fi
1. Will the laser beams directed toward the Earth's surface be a hazard to
2. Will the airborne lasers be able to penetrate cloud layers below them?
3. Will it be necessary for each sovereign government over which the UAS
operate to grant FaceBook permission to shine laser beams toward them?
Facebook Builds UAS That Beams Down Wi-Fi
By Elaine Kauh
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg announced Thursday his social networking company
just finished building an unmanned aerial system that can “beam down Internet
connectivity from the sky.” It’s called Aquila, and demonstrates not only
solar-powered flight, but a new way to connect to the Internet. The project is
part of Internet.org, whose mission is to get the Web to those who don’t have
access to it. Ten percent of people in the world live in areas that lack an
infrastructure to connect, according to Facebook, and a high-flying airplane
equipped with laser transmitters can provide that connectivity with speed and
“It has the wingspan of a Boeing 737, but weighs less than a car and can stay
in the air for months at a time,” Zuckerberg said of Aquila. Facebook will soon
begin testing the aircraft and its systems. According to Facebook’s video
https://www.facebook.com/zuck/videos/10102274951725301/?fref=nf on the
project, it can fly at least 60,000 feet high and is designed to remain aloft
for up to three months. The boomerang-shaped, carbon-fiber aircraft would
receive a radio signal from a ground station and transmit to other like
aircraft via lasers, which would then broadcast Wi-Fi signals to the ground. A
Wall Street Journal blog
reported that to help build the aircraft, Facebook had acquired a U.K. company
that had been developing solar-powered UAS technology.
I'm excited to announce we’ve completed construction of our first full scale
aircraft, Aquila, as part of our Internet.org effort.
Aquila is a solar powered unmanned plane that beams down internet connectivity
from the sky. It has the wingspan of a Boeing 737, but weighs less than a car
and can stay in the air for months at a time.
We've also made a breakthrough in laser communications technology. We've
successfully tested a new laser that can transmit data at 10 gigabits per
second. That's ten times faster than any previous system, and it can accurately
connect with a point the size of a dime from more than 10 miles away.
This effort is important because 10% of the world’s population lives in areas
without existing internet infrastructure. To affordably connect everyone, we
need to build completely new technologies.
Using aircraft to connect communities using lasers might seem like science
fiction. But science fiction is often just science before its time. Over the
coming months, we will test these systems in the real world and continue
refining them so we can turn their promise into reality. Here’s a video showing
the building of Aquila.
Investors wondering where Facebook 's advanced tech research money is going got
Facebook said it designed and built a high-altitude solar-powered plane in 14
months, and that tests will begin later this year. Add that to the social
network’s other big bets on virtual-reality hardware and networking
The drone — dubbed Aquila — is part of Internet.org, Facebook’s plan to extend
Web access to what it estimates are 1.1 billion to 2.8 billion people without
Like Google, Facebook is experimenting with delivering Internet access to
unlikely to be served by traditional landlines or cellular networks. According
to the U.N.’s International Telecommunication Union, 43.4% of the world’s
population doesn’t use the Internet.
“We are exploring a number of different approaches to this challenge, including
aircraft, satellites and terrestrial solutions,” Yael Maguire, who heads up
Facebook’s Connectivity lab, wrote in a blog post.
Aquila, which has the wingspan of a Boeing 737 but weighs only as much as a
car, will be able to fly for three months without landing. It will project a
laser that can transmit data to other aircraft, and a signal that will be
received by small towers and dishes on the ground within 50 kilometers. The
antennas will then convert the signal into Wi-Fi or 4G networks.
The drone will fly at 60,000 to 90,000 feet during the day, putting it above
commercial airplanes and conventional weather patterns. At night, when its
batteries aren’t being charged by the sun, Aquila will fly lower to save
energy. Facebook can rotate its drones every three months with a
near-instantaneous handoff, Mr. Maguire said in an interview with The Wall
Facebook is currently testing its laser system in California. It said its
prototype can deliver 10 gigabits of data a second, much faster than what’s
considered state-of-the-art in the industry. The network of drones is being
designed for rural areas, where the location and intensity of demand can shift
suddenly, Mr. Maguire said. Satellites are better suited for densely populated
One of the engineering challenges is generating enough power to keep the drone
airborne while still powering all its systems. Mr. Maguire said he wants to
take advantage of highly efficient semiconductors used in the cellular
industry. But there is still work to be done. “The battery technology we need
doesn’t exist,” he said.
Even so, regulatory issues — not technology — are likely to dictate the speed
of the program. Sorting out issues such as radio frequency spectrum and gaining
approval to fly over countries’ airspace could take much longer, Mr. Maguire
Even though Facebook’s drone program is expensive, it is a drop in the
company’s R&D budget. “Investors allow companies like Facebook or Google to
explore this kind of non-core opportunities if in the long term, they can be
viable,” said Ben Schachter, an analyst at Macquarie Group. “As long as the
core business of the company maintains its strength, I think investors will
Building communications networks in the stratosphere
Approximately 40 percent of the world is connected to the internet. Of those
who aren't, many are offline for one major reason: Connectivity is expensive.
If you think about the traditional model of connectivity, it starts with a
tower that propagates radio signals to people's devices. To connect people this
way, mobile operators have to build out an extensive infrastructure requiring
land rights, equipment, fiber/microwave, and access to power to run it all.
Using this model, connecting people in remote or low-population-density areas
can be financially challenging — there are fewer potential customers, and you
have to build more infrastructure to reach them. To make the problem even more
challenging, one in five people globally lives in extreme poverty, existing on
$1.25 per day or less. While tremendous progress has been made in connecting
more than 90 percent of the world's population to 2G networks, getting to 100
percent using conventional approaches is unlikely to happen in the near term,
given how unlikely it would be that operators would be able to recoup their
We started the Connectivity Lab at Facebook to see if we could change this
paradigm. We are developing a range of new technologies — including
high-altitude aircraft, satellites, free space optics, and terrestrial
solutions — to help accelerate the process of bringing connectivity to the
unserved and underserved.
Our vision is that these technologies can be used as building blocks, allowing
operators, governments, and others to build networks in these regions that are
at least an order of magnitude more cost-effective. Today we announced that
we've reached two major milestones on our way to making this vision a reality.
The first is that the first full-scale model of Aquila — the high-altitude,
long-endurance aircraft designed by our aerospace team in the U.K. — is
complete and ready for flight testing.
Aquila has the wingspan of a 737 but weighs hundreds of times less.Aquila has
the wingspan of a 737 but weighs hundreds of times less.
With Aquila, we've designed a new aircraft architecture, one that can support
staying in the air for months at a time. Aquila is solar powered, and when
launched, it will create a 50-km communications radius for up to 90 days,
beaming a signal down to the people in that area. This signal will be received
by small towers and dishes that will then convert it into a Wi-Fi or LTE
network that people can connect to with their cellphones and smartphones.
To make all of that possible, we had to make the plane really big and really
light. Aquila has the wingspan of a Boeing 737 airplane but weighs a third as
much as an electric car. The monocoque wing is made from a cured carbon fiber
that is stronger than steel for the same mass of material. Before it's cured,
the material is flexible, so it can be molded into the right shape.
Aquila will fly at between 60,000 and 90,000 feet during the day — above
commercial air traffic and above the weather. The air at that altitude is thin,
about 5 percent that of sea level, so we utilized a high aspect ratio wing and
an undercambered airfoil in the design to optimize its lift-to-drag ratio.
During the day, the aircraft will fly at 90,000 feet to maximize its ability to
charge its solar cells. At night, it will glide down to 60,000 feet, taking
advantage of gravitational potential energy to consume less power.
The communication payload sits in the center of the aircraft, in the fuselage.
Not only do aircraft allow us to not have to dig to lay down fiber backhaul,
but aircraft have the added benefit of allowing the onboard communications
technology to be upgraded at whatever rate is required to meet the market
Test flights for the full-scale model should begin later this year, following
the sub-scale flight tests from earlier in the year in the U.K.
The second milestone is an advancement in using free space laser communications
as a mechanism for communicating between aircraft. Our optics team has designed
and lab-tested optical transceivers that improve upon the state-of-the-art by
approximately 10x, to data rates in the tens of Gbps. As part of this effort,
the team leveraged technologies that were developed for Facebook’s data centers
and backbone of traditional fiber-optic communications. The resulting
throughput is similar to what you'd find over fiber-optic networks — only we
can now send that data through the air. We'll be sharing more details on this
technology in the near future.
We're proud of the progress we've made so far. In 14 short months, we've
designed and built an aircraft from start to finish and made great strides in
developing the technology required to distribute high-capacity data streams
through the air. These are examples of the Facebook work ethos at play: Move
fast and build things — even if it's a massive high-altitude, long-endurance
UAV. Of course, there's a long way to go before this vision can become a
reality, but I'm confident we have the right team in place to be able to make
meaningful strides toward accomplishing Facebook's mission of connecting the
Facebook Builds UAS That Beams Down Wi-Fi
Larry Dighera wrote in
1. Will the laser beams directed toward the Earth's surface be a
hazard to human sight?
2. Will the airborne lasers be able to penetrate cloud layers below
3. Will it be necessary for each sovereign government over which
the UAS operate to grant FaceBook permission to shine laser beams
One of my many hobbies is with lasers (see sig below). I have dozens
of them, and they ain't little pointers. Ironically, I don't even own
any laser pointers. But I have a little knowledge of lasers and laser
Anyway, after reading, the lasers are used to communicate between the
aircraft, not with the ground. Comms between the ground and the drone
are done via wi-fi signals. So the lasers are pointed at other drones
and not at the ground. It appears they are developing a tracking
system to accurately point the lasers at the other drones.
No specifics are given on the laser comms, but free space laser
communications is nothing new. "Free space" means the lasers are
beaming around freely as opposed to being confined in a tube or a
Based on my knowledge and without bogging down the post with all the
technical details, I seriously doubt there is any danger. It doesn't
take much power to do free space comms (eye safe), and at those
altitudes it will be even easier due to the lack of interferring
dust and moisture in the rarified air.
Further, free space comms is done typically with invisible infrared
but it can be done with visible lasers as well. Choosing an appropriate
IR wavelength would have the benefit of increasing transmission through
the air, thus reducing power requirements, and overall increasing eye
Although there is a real danger in lasers being targetted at aircraft,
there is also much hyperbole, misinformation, and dramatacism regarding
lasers in the media.
http://www.earthwaves.org/forum/index.php - Earth Sciences discussion
http://www.skywise711.com - Lasers, Seismology, Astronomy, Skepticism
Sed quis custodiet ipsos Custodes?
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