How many jumbo-jet-sized drones does it take to bring Internet to the entire world?
According to Facebook, that number is in the thousands. And they know this because the company is in the process of privately developing a fleet for just this reason.
Only 2.7 billion of the world's 7+ billion people have access to the Internet. Facebook is a top backer of Internet.org, which is dedicated to bring together the large parts of the globe that are yet to be connected.
So how realistic is the project?
Well, it does not seem to be a question of if, at all. The leader of Facebook's new technology lab, Yael Maguire, said of the new project, "We're going to have to push the edge of solar technology, battery technology, composite technology ... there are a whole bunch of challenges."
The plane-like drones are projected to fly between 60,000 - 90,000 feet above earth (up to 17 miles), an area where there are virtually no regulations. Even big commercial jet liners fly at only half that altitude.
Facebook will likely have to play a useful role in working with government officials to establish new guidelines for flying at those heights, in addition to the tough task of engineering these original drones. What's more, in order to make the project realistic, these massive aircraft will have to be around the size of a 747 but much, much lighter.
Maguire went on to say that they already built one prototype that's the length of seven cars but weighs about the same as 4 car tires.