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Facebook drone passes first test for airborne data

Facebook has announced the successful first test flight of Aquila, a high-altitude, long-endurance solar airplane that provides Internet access to those in its flight path. 

This flight was the first in a series of tests called “functional checks,” designed to verify Aquila’s operational models and overall structure. During the low-altitude flight, Aquila remained in the air for 96 minutes — more than triple the minimum planned mission length — and gathered valuable data to help improve its designs.

At cruise altitude, Aquila was consuming only 2 000 watts of power — that’s as much as a hair dryer or a high end microwave. On its next flights, says Facebook, it will fly faster, higher and longer, beaming connectivity down to people.

Aquila in position prior to take-off. (From left: Kathryn Cook, technical program manager for Aquila; Yael Maguire, head of Connectivity Lab; Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO; Jay Parikh, global head of engineering and infrastructure)

Aquila in position prior to take-off. (From left: Kathryn Cook, technical program manager for Aquila; Yael Maguire, head of Connectivity Lab; Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO; Jay Parikh, global head of engineering and infrastructure)

“Facebook is accelerating its efforts to bring internet connectivity to the four billion people around the world who are not yet online, with the goal of contributing to prosperity, progress and development around the globe'” it said inm a statement. “The company’s Connectivity Lab has reached a major milestone in this ambition with the first full-scale test flight of Aquila, an unmanned solar-powered airplane that can be used to bring affordable internet to hundreds of millions of people in the hardest-to-reach places.

“Internet access can offer life-changing opportunities, information, and experiences, but 1.6 billion people today live in remote locations with no access to mobile broadband networks. Facebook is building new technologies like Aquila to help address this challenge.”

 Aquila moments after take-off.

Aquila moments after take-off.

When complete, Aquila will be able to circle a region up to 100km in diameter, beaming connectivity down from an altitude of more than 18 000 metres using laser communications and millimetre wave systems. Aquila is designed to fly for up to three months at a time.

The aircraft has the wingspan of an airliner, but at cruising speed it will consume only 5 000 watts — the same amount as three hair dryers, or a high-end microwave. Facebook has flown a 1/5th-scale version of Aquila for several months, but this was the first flight of the full-scale aircraft.

Aquila in flight, wing view.

Aquila in flight, wing view.

To reach the goal of being able to fly over a remote region and deliver connectivity for up to three months at time, Facebook will need to break the world record for solar-powered unmanned flight, which currently stands at two weeks. This will require significant advancements in science and engineering to achieve. It will also require Facebook to work closely with operators, governments, and other partners to deploy these aircraft in the regions where they’ll be most effective.

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Mark with some key members of the team at the test site. (From left: Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO; Jay Parikh, global head of engineering and infrastructure; Kathryn Cook, technical program manager for Aquila; Yael Maguire, head of Connectivity Lab)

Facebook’s mission is to connect the world. With its growing team of aerospace, optical physics, RF communications and other world experts, and existing relationships with the technology community, telcos, governments, and communities that use Facebook, it says, the company is uniquely positioned to do this work.

To date, Facebook’s connectivity efforts, which include initiatives like Free Basics, are estimated to have brought more than 25 million people online who wouldn’t be otherwise.

 

 A map showing the distribution of 4G, 3G and 2G connections around the world (as of February 2016).

A map showing the distribution of 4G, 3G and 2G connections around the world (as of February 2016).

Connectivity and population distribution maps.

Connectivity and population distribution maps.

Connectivity Lab is working on a range of new technologies to make internet access available and affordable, ranging from terrestrial solutions (Terragraph and ARIES) to UAVs (Aquila) to satellites for the most remote areas (AMOS 6).

Connectivity Lab is working on a range of new technologies to make internet access available and affordable, ranging from terrestrial solutions (Terragraph and ARIES) to UAVs (Aquila) to satellites for the most remote areas (AMOS 6).

Aquila Infographic.

Aquila Infographic.

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Cisco gives pre-owned tech a Refresh

In a market of constant upgrades, Cisco Refresh aims to keep quality product away from landfills, writes BRYAN TURNER.

When one gets a new smartphone upgrade, the old device may be used as a backup or can be used by someone else. In business environments, equipment upgrades may not be conducive to keeping old equipment around, which may send older, working equipment to landfills.

This is where Cisco’s Refresh initiative comes in. At Cisco Connect in Sun City this week, Ehrika Gladden, VP and general manager of Cisco Refresh, lifted the lid on a little-known aspect of the company’s strategy. 

“Refresh is Cisco’s global pre-owned equipment business unit,” said Gladden. “It is certified to meet the quality and engineering standards of Cisco. It is licensed for software and it’s also inclusive of a services warranty.

“Our responsibility in 80 countries around the world is tied to both the recovery of assets and the ability to leverage those assets at a lower price point. This ensures our sustainability and proper usage of the Earth’s resources while providing access to small and medium businesses. The products are typically in the range of 20-40% cheaper. The products represent the entire portfolio for Cisco in some part, the majority of that product set is 2+ years in terms of generation.”

Cisco’s Circular Economy initiative ensures a sustainable loop through businesses willing to pay a premium for the latest, cutting-edge solutions, while Cisco markets older, working equipment for resale to those who don’t require the latest solutions. This ensures far less new components need to be used in a product range.

“We are leveraging the model of remanufacturing, refurbishing, recycling, and reusing,” said Gladden. “Depending on the product set, there is a certain set of product yield that we expect. They vary from product to product, but we do have a percentage that doesn’t make it through.

“Those are always reused, meaning we will look at those products and decide to use them completely differently, leveraging the components, remanufacturing back into the overall build process. If that can’t be done, we will go into a recycle process where we melt those products down to reuse them.”

Repairing and refurbishing older products isn’t just that. Cisco is creating repair centres that are owned by third-parties to uplift local ownership.

“The repair centres, as a global manufacturer, is Cisco’s entree into local ownership,” said Gladden. “I want to be precise about what I mean by local ownership. It’s critical for us to have a localised presence, but doing that through ownership. When you look at inclusive economies, those that are participative, to be sustainable – not in the product set, but generationally.

“The ability as a global manufacturer through a local ownership model  isto create a repair centre where a product can be returned, screened, tested, and repaired, leveraging the talent that the Networking Academy is creating.”

Cisco is working closely with local governments to understand where it operates and how to leverage the skills in the market.

Gladden said: “We are also super excited about the National Development Plan and African Union statements which with we align: eradication of poverty, job creation, ownership, healthcare, education, it all fits in the model. So we were very excited to have the opportunity to come to Africa first to announce this. Over the next twelve months, we want to establish our first repair centres, and in the next 3 to 5 years, build that vision into a reality.”

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Why Data Privacy has become a Pipe Dream

If you’re active on WhatsApp, Facebook or any other social platform, you’re not as safe as you thought, writes
AARON THORNTON, MD of Dial a Nerd

As you begin to read this, let’s perform a quick experiment! How many active conversations are you engaged in – right now – on WhatsApp? When was the last time you shared a picture or video on Instagram? Is Facebook currently open and active on one of your devices? And how many internet- connected devices are you using at this moment? Chances are, you have multiple devices running multiple applications most of the time. So what’s the problem, you ask? Since when did checking in with a high school buddy in Australia via Facebook become a dangerous act?  

In reply, we say, read on if you can stomach it!  

Nation-State Hacking & You  

It might seem like a laughably long shot to say that you are a key player in the increasingly sinister and sophisticated world of nation-state hacking. Well, you are. Given that individuals, businesses and governments are now constantly connected, round the clock, consumers and businesses have become fair game in cyber espionage. And as we create and share more and more data, both the value and accessibility of that data increases. According to a report by McAfee, IP theft now accounts for more than 25% of the estimated $600 billion cost of cybercrime to the world economy.    

With data having become the ‘new gold’, nation states are naturally pouring investment and key resources into building advanced cyber warfare tools. Indeed, entire divisions of armed forces as well as the upper echelons of corporate leadership are devising ways to harness data to gain economic, political and social power. At the highest level, tools and platforms are being developed with the specific aim of perpetrating cyber espionage and data theft. No surprise then, that the consumer and business environments are rife with increasingly advanced malware, ransomware and many other malicious hacking tools and methods.  

Still not convinced? Yes, we can smell the scepticism from here! So let’s take a moment to see how this has already played out, beneath our noses.  

Remember the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal of early 2018? For many, this was a watershed moment in the emerging war for consumer data – and the ensuing tensions between privacy, power and profit. Need a refresh? Well, in 2018, Facebook exposed data on up to 87 million Facebook users to a researcher who worked at Cambridge Analytica, which worked for the Trump campaign. In essence, the data was harvested without user consent and used for political purposes.  

Another chilling but less direct example can be found in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. According to Politico, Russia launched a massive social media campaign to ‘sow discord’ leading up to the elections. The website reported that as early as 2014, an infamous Russian “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency – a company linked to Russian president Putin – developed a strategy using fraudulent bank accounts and other fake identity documents to “spread distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.” 

When referring to the Russian hacks and their impact on election results, one U.S. Representative sagely noted: “They didn’t just steal data; they weaponized it.” 

Ignorance is not bliss 

Okay, so data is being ‘weaponized’, and ordinary people and businesses are being caught in the crosshairs of cyber warfare. A little bit frightening, but the good news is that savvy individuals like you can take steps to protect personal data and actively combat the creeping influence of juggernauts such as Facebook and Google.  

To begin with, awareness is key. As you engage with various platforms and applications at work and at home, take time to understand how your data is being used and what the terms of use are. Is your data being accessed and sold to advertisers? Have you consented to this? In addition to scrutinizing your consent, also pay close attention to how much data you share online – and the nature of the details you are divulging. Always keep in mind that hackers are employing smart social engineering tactics and using the details of your private life (birthdays, holidays, pet’s names, etc) to trick you into opening infected emails and clicking on malware. Whenever you are online, you are a target – and vigilance at all times is critical. Beyond that, it goes without saying that you must commit to following basic security protocols with your devices. So always keep software up to date and keep your data backed up so that you can reboot or wipe a device if needed.   

Now that we’ve left you sufficiently spooked, you can get back to those demanding WhatsApp/Facebook/Instagram notifications (same company, by the way)…albeit, we hope, with a slightly altered [cyber] worldview!  

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