Facebook’s ambitious drone plans just got a little more real. The social network on Thursday revealed more details about Aquila, the airplane-sized solar-powered drone first teased at this year’s F8 conference back in March.
Named after the eagle in Greek mythology who carried Jupiter’s thunderbolts, the Aquila drone is a beast. The V-shaped, carbon fiber-layered prototype weighs between 880 lbs. and 1,000 lbs. — roughly the equivalent of a Toyota Prius — with a wingspan comparable to a Boeing 737 and is capable of flying at altitudes between 60,000 feet and 90,000 for three months at a time, Facebook global head of engineering Jay Parikh explained at an event at Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters.
Facebook has completed construction on one full-sized drone, as well as a handful of smaller drones at one-tenth the scale for testing purposes.
Parikh explained the Aquila was one step in trying to bring the Internet to the remaining 10% of the world’s population who lack Internet connectivity.
“If you’re looking at your little quadcopters, this is not what we’re building,” Parikh quipped.
When designing Aquila, Facebook focused on three elements: solar power, altitude and duration. The social network wanted the drone to be self-powered for months at a time and be able to fly above commercial airspace and weather elements to minimize complications. And when the time comes, the Aquila can land on the ground like a glider, safely coasting to a designated area on the ground.