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Facebook's internet-delivery drone completes first test flight

The Aquila drone is being created to widen the range of internet connectivity around the globe.

BT Online        Last Updated: August 1, 2016  | 20:08 IST
Facebook's internet-delivery drone completes first test flight

Social media firm Facebook has successfully carried out its first test flight of a solar-powered drone designed to provide faster and inexpensive internet access to remote regions of the world.

The Aquila drone is being created to widen the range of internet connectivity around the globe.

"New technologies like Aquila have the potential to bring access, voice and opportunity to billions of people around the world, and do so faster and more cost-effectively than has ever been possible before," said Jay Parikh, global head of engineering and infrastructure at Facebook.

When testing is finished, the huge unarmed airplane will be able to circle a region measuring up to 96.6 kilometres in diametre, while using laser communications and millimetre wave systems (extremely high-frequency radio waves) to send connectivity down from an altitude of more than 18,288 metres, 'Live Science' reported.

The autonomous aircraft has a wingspan larger than a Boeing 737 airliner, but weighs hundreds of times less (about one-third of an electric car) because of its carbon-fibre frame, according to Facebook.

Half of Aquila's mass is made up of batteries, which lets the internet-delivery drone fly during day and night.

"Aquila is designed to be hyper efficient, so it can fly for up to three months at a time," said Parikh.

"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," he said.

According to the social networking website, the recent test flight was the first for the full-scale drone, as previous tests used a one-fifth scale version of Aquila.

The solar-powered drone flew for more than 90 minutes during the low-altitude test flight.

Its success included performance verifications of the drone's aerodynamics, batteries, control systems and crew training.

Amazon's delivery by drone in 30 minutes

Online US retail firm Amazon says it is developing the technology to use drones to deliver packages in 30 minutes or less, a broad expansion of unmanned flight that is raising concerns about safety, security and privacy. Using commercial drones to quickly deliver packages is probably years away. But when government regulations catch up with emerging technologies, Amazon says it could revolutionize the way people shop for items they need quickly.

Google drone package deliveries in 2017

Internet giant Alphabet, the new holding company for Google, expects to begin delivering packages to consumers via drones sometime in 2017, the executive in charge of its drone effort said on Monday. David Vos, the leader for Alphabet's Project Wing, said his company is in talks with the Federal Aviation Administration and other stakeholders about setting up an air traffic control system for drones that would use cellular and Internet technology to coordinate unmanned aerial vehicle flights at altitudes under 500 feet (152 meters).

Wal-Mart seeks to test drones for home delivery, pickup

Wal-Mart Stores Inc has applied to US regulators for permission to test drones for home delivery, curbside pickup and checking warehouse inventories, a sign it plans to go head-to-head with Amazon in using drones to fill and deliver online orders. The world's largest retailer by revenue has for several months been conducting indoor tests of small unmanned aircraft systems - the term regulators use for drones - and is now seeking for the first time to test the machines outdoors. It plans to use drones manufactured by China's SZ DJI Technology Co Ltd.

(With inputs from agencies)

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