Facebook has revealed it has tested a solar-powered drone in UK skies as it looks to develop machines that can bring internet access to the world's remotest regions.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg revealed the tests had taken place in a post on the site, and gave some more details on the intended capabilities and construction of the drone.
“I'm excited to share that we've successfully completed our first test flight of these aircraft in the UK,” he said.
“The final design will have a wingspan greater than a Boeing 737 but will weigh less than a car. It will be powered by solar panels on its wings and it will be able to stay at altitudes of more than 60,000 feet for months at a time.”
The post does not make clear if the drone tested was a full-scale design, although comments made by vice president of engineering Jay Parikh to the Wall Street Journal suggest Facebook has yet to test a full-sized build of the drone.
“We are working towards a real test flight this summer sometime,” he said, talking at the firm’s annual F8 developer conference. “This is a big plane, this is a big project and it’s never been done before.”
V3 contacted Facebook for more insight on the tests that had taken place in the UK but had received no reply at the time of publication.
Facebook first revealed its intention to start testing drones to provide internet access a year ago. Facebook’s goal is to try to provide internet access for everyone in the world, regardless of location, as part of its Internet.org initiative.
“Aircraft like these will help connect the whole world because they can affordably serve the 10 percent of the world's population that live in remote communities without existing internet infrastructure," said Facebook.
This may sound altruistic, but Facebook also needs to ensure its user base continues to grow so it can serve adverts to increasing numbers of people, and entice more advertisers from around the world.
Helping bring internet connectivity to those in remote regions is an obvious way to ensure this happens.
The effort comes as rivals such as Google and Amazon also start to take their technology to the skies, with Google attempting a similar project using balloons.
Amazon, meanwhile, was revealed last week to have received clearance to start testing drones in US airspace, as it looks for alternative ways to deliver packages to customers.
The rise of drones has been noted with some concern by the House of Lords, with a recent report arguing that a database of users and flights made by drones must be created, to bring more regulation to this sector.
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