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.
Testing could come in a year
With early estimates coming from Facebook, that U.S. tests are just a year out, it makes you wonder how long ago this project began. The company even predicts the drones will be deployed over underdeveloped countries in the next three to five years. They have even picked out the first 21 places they would like to put them in order to connect Latin America, Asia and Africa. The company went on to say that it will rely on charities to run the equipment once it's been made.
So, it looks like Facebook is going to really connect the entire world.
Wait. Just a second. Another tech giant is said to be working on a similar project. Search engine and everything-else-under-the-Sun provider Google purchased Titan Aerospace earlier this year - a company that builds solar-powered drones that fly for multiple years. And they did so, right while Facebook was in negotiations with Titan regarding their own drone project that we've been discussing.
A Google spokesperson said, "It’s still early days, but atmospheric satellites could help bring Internet access to millions of people, and help solve other problems, including disaster relief and environmental damage like deforestation."
While it might be a race to see who get there first, I am OK if it eventually leads to a world full of people who can listen to The Kim Komando Show, or watch video in Kim's Club, whenever they like.