Facebook Putting a Hold on Internet Drone Efforts

Facebook has spent years promoting an exciting new project: building Facebook drones that can deliver Internet access to the world. The drones were to be solar-powered and have a wingspan bigger than a Boeing 737, allowing them to fly around the world to bring Internet to those in remote places who can’t get WiFi anywhere else. However, the social media company has announced it will no longer be building the drones.

After a crash and increased competition from traditional aviation companies, the tech giant decided to abandon project Aquila.

“Given these developments, we’ve decided not to design or build our own aircraft any longer,” director of engineering Yael Maguire wrote in a Facebook blog post. He explained that the company is still committed to bringing internet access to those who need it, by focusing “on the other technologies needed to make this system work, like flight control computers and high-density batteries.”

While the company says it’s still dedicated to bringing more people Internet access, it will now be partnering with other companies to help build the actual aircraft as well as other developments in technology. With machinery manufacturing shipments accounting for 7.1% of all manufacturing shipments in 2012, a lot of companies now rely on others to help with manufacturing efforts. The current plant that was building the planes in England will be shut down.

Facebook has been working on the Internet-delivery drones, called Aquila, for several years. The first full-scale test flight was in 2016 and they had more minor success since then. But they also hit quite a few bumps along the way, like figuring out how to land an aircraft with no wheels or landing gear.

The company also ran into issues with test flights, according to The New York Times. Facebook’s connectivity company, Internet.org, partnered with Spaceport America to build a facility for test flights. But the geometry of the Spaceport runway prevented drones from being launched when the wind was blowing certain ways, as the drones had to be launched into the wind due to lack of landing gear. It also ran into problems with finding the proper cushioning surface for the drones to land on without damaging the drone.

Furthermore, Facebook lost two of its engineers, Andy Cox, a British engineer, and Martin Gomez, director of aeronautical platforms, when they left the company earlier this year.

Despite the fact that there are more than 770,000 drones registered with the FAA, the Facebook drones were something new. And like most new projects, it’s been tough to launch. Without a sufficient testing site, two of its core engineers, and a successfully designed aircraft, the project seems to be on hold indefinitely.

With about half of all U.S. mobile phone users having a smartphone, Internet access is something this country doesn’t have to worry about. But in more remote locations, it can be extremely difficult to gain Internet access. Facebook hopes that its business efforts can still spread Internet access, even if they don’t use drones to do so.

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