Facebook drones will be huge, could get off the ground next year

From sci-fi to Wi-Fi for developing countries

Facebook drone

The words "unmanned drone" often carry a negative connotation, but Facebook plans to change all that in the next three to five years by using them to deliver internet connections in developing countries around the globe.

Facebook's ambitious plans center around delivering internet to the remaining 15% of the world's population who remain untethered from the world wide web.

Speaking at this year's Social Good Summit, Facebook Connectivity Lab Engineering Director Yael Maguire offered further details on how a potential fleet of unmanned planes circling the globe at up to 90,000 feet could work.

Described as "roughly the size of a commercial aircraft, like a 747" but much lighter, the planes (Maguire doesn't like to call them as "drones") will fly above the weather using solar power to target 21 countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Mile high club

Beyond the technical accomplishment, Maguire claims there are currently no regulatory issues for planes flying above 60,000 feet that would prevent beaming the internet to these underdeveloped parts of the world.

Once in the air, the drones would have to fly unmanned for several months at a time, no small feat considering the current world record for flight endurance on a solar-powered plane is just two weeks.

Maguire says Facebook hopes to get the first such aircraft into the sky in 2015 with testing to take place at an undisclosed US location. The actual wireless internet carrying drones are three to five years away at best.

The question of who will actually be responsible for deploying the drones also remains unresolved, but Maguire wants to shed some of the lingering "negative connotations" about such planes first.

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