Zuckerberg’s Internet Lasers
Zuckerberg’s internet.org project has attracted a lot of attention since its conception in mid 2013. The 31-year-old billionaire behind Facebook hopes his research and development team, The Connectivity Lab, will create new ways to bring web access to the billions of people who have been left out of the internet age.
Not that all people who don’t use the internet lack the infrastructure; many lack the funds or feel they lack the incentive to connect to the world wide web. To counter this problem, Facebook has carved out business deals with phone carriers around the world that allow for carriers to offer over 300 web services (including Facebook) for no additional charge.
However, 10-15 percent of the people who don’t access the internet literally can’t; their governments lack the infrastructure to enable internet access to the remote or difficult-terrained areas where they live. For these individuals, Zuckerberg has set in motion various revolutionary projects that will allow for internet service to be beamed in from the sky as opposed to cabled in with expensive and difficult-to-install fiber optic cables.
As apocalypse-like as this sounds, Facebook’s internet access endeavor involves creating drones that shoot lasers down from the sky. For this particular project, Zuckerberg sought the help of Hamid Hemmati, a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory that has spent multiple decades researching how to send communications via laser.
Lasers could hypothetically transmit data 10 times faster than current technology, and they’re unregulated. The only issue is that there isn’t the proper technology to allow for laser communications to work on a large scale… yet.
Zuckerberg decided to expedite that process. With the help of Hematti and his team, the Connectivity Lab is researching the best methods of aiming lasers mounted in drones and satellites. They’ll be forced to find solutions to a myriad of potential issues that this technology would face; for one, airborne lasers can’t be shot through clouds. The lasers themselves will be tested in the field sometime towards the end of 2016.
They’re also working on creating the right drones for the job. The current prototype is known as Aquila and shaped like a 1,000 pound boomerang with a wingspan that measures wider than 100 feet. Aquila is meant to slowly glide through the air for months on end. Another challenge: the plane must fly at around 65,000 feet, an altitude higher than that of commercial planes and eve most military aircrafts. The air is so thin at that level that crafts designed for lower altitudes generally can’t stay aloft. One possible solution would be to have Aquila airlifted to that altitude by a hot air balloon which, once it performs its duty, will deflate and fall back to the ground, where its tracking device allows for it to be collected and recycled.
The Connectivity Team has made rapid process producing Aquila, cutting down a more normal 7-year concept-to-flight process down just over a year by outsourcing a lot of the work to universities.
The testing procedure at the end of this year will involve a ground station transmitting a radio signal to a drone that then broadcasts that signal to other drones using a laser. The drones will beam those lasers down to transponders, each within about 30 miles of its respective craft. The transponders will then convert the laser signal into Wi-Fi or 4G networks.