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Facebook drone passes first test for airborne data

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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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Welcome to world of 2099

The world of 2099 will be unrecognisable from the world of today, but it can be predicted, says one visionary. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK met him in Singapore.

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Futuristic structures tower over the landscape. Giant, alien-looking trees light up with dazzling colours amid the hundreds of plant species that grow up their trunks. Cosmetic stores sell their wares via public touch-screens, with products delivered instantly in drawers below the screens.

This is not a vision of the future. It is a sample of Singapore today. But it is also an inkling of the world we may all experience in the future.

Singapore was the venue, last week, of the World Cities Summit, where engineers, politicians, investors and visionaries rubbed shoulders as they talked about the strategies and policies that would enhance urban living in the future.

As part of the Summit, global payment technologies leader Mastercard hosted a small media briefing by one of Singapore’s leading thinkers about the future, Dr Damian Tan, managing director of Vickers Venture Partners. The company’s slogan “We invest in the extraordinary,” offers a small clue to Tan’s perspective.

“We look as far forward as 2099 because, as a venture capital firm, we invest in the long term,” he tells a group of journalists from Africa and the Middle East. “Companies explode in growth because there is value in the future. If there is no growth, they won’t explode.”

The big question that the Smart Cities Summit and Mastercard are trying to help answer is, what will cities look like in the year 2099? Tan can’t give an exact answer, but he offers a framework that helps one approach the question.

“If you want to look at 81 years into the future, and understand the change that will come, you need to double that amount and look into the past. That takes us to 1856. The difference between then and now is the difference you can expect between now and 2099.”

  •    Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

Use the page links below to continue reading about Tan’s visions.

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Win a Poster Heater with Gadget and Takealot.com

This winter Gadget and Takealot.com are giving away three Poster Heaters, which look like posters but become heaters when you plug them in.

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Three Gadget readers will each win a unit, valued at R550 each. To enter, follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter and tell us on the @GadgetZA account how many Watts the heater consumes.

What’s the big deal about these heaters? Many of us are struggling to keep the balance between soaring electricity costs and the need to keep warm this winter.

However, the recently launched Poster Heater by EasyHeat and distributed in South Africa by Takealot.com is not only one of the most cost effective electric heaters currently on the market, it is also easy to setup and use.

As the name indicates, it is a poster similar to one you would hang on a wall. But, plug it in and it turns into a 300 Watt heater. The Poster Heater isn’t designed to heat hallways or large rooms, but rather smaller ones like a bedroom or a baby’s nursery or a dressing room.

It uses radiant heating, which means that it heats up in a couple of minutes and the heat is directed at the objects or people around it, quickly taking the chill out of the air and providing a comfortable ambient temperature.

The other advantage of radiant heating is that it doesn’t dry out the air like infrared or gas heaters. Users also don’t have to worry about their children or pets getting too close to it because, even though it gets hot, it can be touched.

To enter the competition follow the steps below:

Competition entry details:

1. Follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter. (We will ONLY be accepting entries via Twitter, so please don’t enter through the comments section of this article.)

2. Tell us on Twitter, via @GadgetZA, mentioning @Takealot in your posting, how many Watts the Poster Heater consumes.

cleardot.gif3. The competition closes on 31 July 2018.

4. Winners will be notified via Twitter on 1 August and Takealot.com will be in touch to organise delivery.

5. The competition is only open to South African residents.

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