Facebook Wants to Bring Internet to the World with Solara Drones

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Not content with allowing people to poke one another from the comfort of their own home, Facebook has plans to help supply the world with basic Internet.

The plans began after Titan Aerospace unveiled designs for the Solara high-altitude solar-powered drone plane, which is able to operate as an atmospheric satellite with the largest model able to carry up to 250 pounds at 20,000 meters for up to 5 years without landing. The Solara 60′s 150 ft. wingspan is topped with solar panels that receive constant daylight above the clouds, which the Solara can then store to run during the night.

It also offers a new level of versatility compared to our existing satellites, since the Solara can land and be refitted with new equipment instead of having to send another satellite. Some applications considered for Solara range from scientific monitoring missions to disaster response, and anything from crop monitoring to anti-piracy surveillance.

Facebook is interested in using the technology in another way, by providing basic internet service to remote regions and allowing the rest of the world the basic comforts we sometimes take for granted.

TechCrunch is hearing that Facebook is buying Titan Aerospace, makers of near-orbital, solar-powered drones which can fly for five years without needing to land. According to a source with access to information about the deal, the price for this acquisition is $60 million*.

From our understanding, Facebook is interested in using these high-flying drones to blanket parts of the world without Internet access, beginning with Africa. The company would start by building 11,000 of these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), specifically the “Solara 60″ model.

While Facebook is obviously the name grabbing headline behind the purchase of Titan Aerospace, the 11,000 Solara models would be produced exclusively for the Internet.org Project, which is backed along with Facebook by a number of large corporations that hope to “connect the world.”

Mark Zuckerberg spoke at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona regarding Internet.org and Facebook’s plans for a more connected world:

“In the US we have 911 to get basic services. Similarly, we want to create a basic dial tone for the Internet. Basic messaging, basic Web information, basic social networking.”

An admirable goal, and certainly something the world would benefit from, but there are some questions raised by the technology. Do we need yet another pair of eyes in the sky? Will these atmospheric satellites be under the control of companies, governments, human interest groups, video gamers? Would the amount of money spent on providing internet to the world be better spent elsewhere, like feeding third world countries or dealing with humanitarian issues across the globe?

These are questions and concerns that are constantly being raised as the development of new technologies pushes the world further into the future. Currently the plans for Facebook’s purchase of Titan Aerospace are still developing, but with the interesting design and versatility of the Solara, we expect to hear more from them in the very near future.

What are your thoughts of Facebook’s plans to spread internet across the globe? Sound off in the comments section below!

Images: Titan Aerospace

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