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Social media giant 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.