Face­book and Google to bring in­ter­net ac­cess to the far­thest cor­ners of the world.

HWM (Singapore) - - Think - by James Lu

An­nounced in late 2013, In­ter­net.org, a Face­book ini­tia­tive set it­self the am­bi­tious goal of con­nect­ing five bil­lion people from de­vel­op­ing and third world coun­tries to the In­ter­net. Face­book CEO, Mark Zucker­berg, be­lieves the way to achieve this is through un­manned, high al­ti­tude drones. In March, Face­book paid US$20 mil­lion to buy U.K.-based drone man­u­fac­turer, As­centa, adding its team of en­gi­neers and re­searchers to Face­book’s Con­nec­tiv­ity Lab, which al­ready boasts some of the world’s top aero­space and com­mu­ni­ca­tions en­gi­neers, many re­cruited from NASA’s Jet Propul­sion Lab and Ames Re­search Cen­ter. The As­centa founders pre­vi­ously de­vel­oped an early ver­sion of Ze­phyr, the world’s long­est fly­ing so­lar-pow­ered un­manned air­craft, and Face­book’s drone is likely to be very sim­i­lar to the Ze­phyr drone.

Google thinks the an­swer to the third world In­ter­net prob­lem is through bal­loons - al­though it may also be hedg­ing its bets with a drone-based ap­proach, hav­ing re­cently pur­chased Ti­tan Aero­space, a drone man­u­fac­turer for an undis­closed sum. Google’s Project Loon, which has been in beta test­ing since 2011, will even­tu­ally use up to 70,000 weather bal­loons or­bit­ing in the up­per strato­sphere to beam web ac­cess down to spe­cial re­ceivers on the ground. While Google’s bal­loons are more frag­ile than Face­book’s drones, and are more sub­ject to ad­verse weather con­di­tions that can cause them to stray off course, or even crash al­to­gether, the bal­loons are also much cheaper to pro­duce, cost­ing a few hun­dred dol­lars, rather than the few mil­lion dol­lars each drone costs. In June 2013, Project Loon com­pleted a suc­cess­ful pi­lot test, when thirty bal­loons beamed In­ter­net ac­cess to re­mote ar­eas of New Zealand’s South Is­land.

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