It has been rather quiet on Facebook Aquila Project front since the maiden test flight was carried out towards the end of July. When things go quiet like this about such a big project, it usually means lots of stuff going on outside the public view.
In Facebook’s Aquila’s case though, the silence since that test flight could be as a result of an investigation into a crash that happened on that day.
The United States agency responsible for investigating accidents in the transport sector, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), had for the last four months (since the maiden flight that is) being seeking answers to questions about an accident that happened at the end of the flight.
To be sure, nobody was injured in the accident (at least, no news of an injury has been reported). The incident happened at the landing stage of the test flight.
According to the reports, the Aquila drone was not designed to land the way commercial planes are made to land. The Facebook engineers in charge of the project knew there would be problems when it was time to bring down the drone.
Though Facebook are keen to emphasize that the problem was not that huge and it was expected, the fact that the NTSB got involved in the investigations can mean only thing: the crash was big enough to attract their attention.
The Aquila drone is a high-altitide drone designed to ultimately work on solar energy. It is one of the projects in Facebook’s pipeline that is to be used to provide free, high-speed internet service to poor communities around the world.
The operational premise of the Aquila drone is simple enough: gliding silently at high-altitide, the on-board technology would be used to beam laser-quided internet signals to poor communities.
The drone is designed to stay for months in the skies, replenishing it’s required energy from the sun. That is why the wings of the drone are far wider than the wings of a regular commercial Boeing 737 jetliner.
The reason for the huge wings are two-fold. Firstly, it would do the work of traditional air crafts, helping to keep the craft afloat. But the second reason is why the drone would be able to remain in the air for months. The whole length of he wings would be lined with high grade solar panels to harness the sun’s energy.
This would be transferred to cells in the drone to be used to power the drone and provide the required energy for all the hi-tech gadgets inside the drone.
This latest problem for Facebook is just one in a series of setbacks for the company’s initiatives related to giving poor communities cheap internet.
One such initiative is Free Basics. With Free Basics, people who cannot afford internet services can use it to view some websites, including a trimmed down version of Facebook, free of charge.
Since Free Basics was launched, it has come under a lot of problems mostly from critics who believe the program is discriminatory. India had already banned the use of Free Basics in the country over net neutrality concerns.
In Egypt, Free Basics was banned because the government wanted data of users of the program. Something Facebook was unable to comply with.
And just recently, a satellite that was to be used to transmit Free Internet to some parts of Africa was destroyed.
This happened when the rocket to be used to launch the satellite into space exploded while being prepped for a routine test. The explosion came just a few days before the satellite was due to be launched into space.
While the world is waiting for the NTSB findings and report on the accident involving the Aquila drone, I can’t help but think that by he time Aquila is ready to commence full scale operations, other players in the field would have made the whole program unnecessary.
For instance, Elon Musk’s plan to launch thousands of satellites into space for cheap high-speed internet could come on stream before Aquila.
image credits: theverge.com; polysonics.com; androidcentral.com