Earlier this month, rumors started swirling around Facebook’s possible entrance into the field of drone technology — spawning wonder at what the social media company could possibly want with a fleet of drones. One rumor supposed Facebook wanted to use drones to distribute internet coverage as part of its Internet.org project, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has confirmed that theory this week by publishing an announcement on his Facebook page regarding the company’s exploration into “connectivity aircraft”.
VISUAL CONTEXT: WORLD WEB CONNECTIVITY
The company will begin to branch into drones through its partnership with Ascenta. Zuckerberg explains Facebook’s various work with aerospace and flight entities:
Our team has many of the world’s leading experts in aerospace and communications technology, including from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and Ames Research Center. Today we are also bringing on key members of the team from Ascenta, a small UK-based company whose founders created early versions of Zephyr, which became the world’s longest flying solar-powered unmanned aircraft. They will join our team working on connectivity aircraft.
The partnerships with various aircraft and aerospace companies will boost Facebook’s much-publicized goal of connecting the entire world through the internet. While other tech giants — Google, most prominently — have made big splashes about delivering internet connectivity around the world, the challenges of doing so are often cultural or political. Cable theft remains a big problem in Africa — which is part of the reason Google is looking towards delivering wireless internet through balloons and blimps, and why Facebook could be looking to drones. Another obstacle is some countries’ political opposition to U.S.-based technology companies interfering with the censorship policies they have set up for those that do have internet access. Not to mention, the international anxiety over how the U.S. monitors web users through U.S. tech companies’ back doors as a result of Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks.
But the reality of widespread drone usage is still a ways off for many. The integration of drones will have to be thorough with international airspace regulations; drone companies and governments will have to collaborate. In the meantime, Facebook’s Connectivity Lab will be working on high-altitude planes, the use of satellite technology, and laser technology to look into the future of a world in which more people have access to the internet than those who don’t. So far, some progress has become tangible. Zuckerberg wrote that Facebook has partnered with companies in Paraguay and the Philippines to connect 3 million people successfully.