Facebook prepping army of laser-wielding Internet drones


— 9:24 AM on March 28, 2014

Facebook has had a busy week. On Tuesday, the company revealed plans to purchase Oculus VR. Last night, founder Mark Zuckerberg announced the Connectivity Lab, which is part of an effort to bring Internet access to parts of the world that don't have it. The Connectivity Lab was created by the same team behind Facebook's Open Compute Project, and it's working on delivering Internet access using satellites and drones connected by frickin' lasers. Seriously.

According to Facebook's Yael Macguire, who stars in the promo video embedded below, the Connectivity Lab is pursuing different solutions for different population densities. In low-density regions, the plan is to use geosynchronous and low-Earth orbit satellites to deliver connectivity. Suburban areas are better served by flying drones, Macguire says. Right now, Facebook is working on drones that fly at an elevation of about 65,000 feet, which is high enough to avoid wind, weather, and other aircraft. The drones are powered by solar energy and can apparently fly for months at a time.

Right now, the plan is to connect the drones and satellites using free-space optical communication (FSO)—infrared lasers, in other words. Facebook bills FSO as a "promising technology that potentially allows us to dramatically boost the speed of internet connections provided by satellites and drones." It sounds like the details haven't been fleshed out fully, though. Facebook is actively seeking staff to work on the project. If you're interested, more details are available here and on Facebook's infrastructure careers page.

The cynic in me thinks the Connectivity Lab is just a ploy to get more of the world's population using Facebook. And that's probably part of it. This isn't a solo effort, though. The project is part of a broader Internet.org initiative supported by Samsung, Qualcomm, Nokia, Ericsson, Mediatek, and Opera.

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