Drones to provide Internet service
Aug. 17, 2015
by Mark Ollig

It might come as a surprise to learn nearly two-thirds of the world’s population is still unable to access the Internet.

Various methods of providing Internet access to those living in economically challenged, or isolated parts of our planet, have been proposed and tested.

Educational researcher Dr. Sugata Mitra, working in New Deli, India, wanted to help the poorer neighborhood children who had no access to computers; let alone the Internet.

The children lived in the shantytown next to where he worked.

Dr. Mitra devised a way to do it.

He cut a hole the size of a small window in the wall dividing his office location from this poorer neighborhood.

Dr. Mitra then attached a shelf in this opening in the wall, and placed a personal computer on it; along with a screen, keyboard, and a mouse.

The computer was then connected to the Internet.

The children appeared very curious, when they first approached Dr. Mitra’s “Hole-in-the-Wall” computer arrangement.

According to Dr. Mitra, most of them had never seen a working computer.

Without any prior computer knowledge, the children were able to learn on their own, how to use the computer.

They figured out how to access the Internet via the computer’s web browser.

The children taught themselves how to play online games, and even learned computer programming.

By accessing educational websites on the Internet, they were able to better themselves through online learning.

Dr. Mitra successfully began more of these “Hole-in-the-Wall” computer arrangements in other locations.

In 2013, Google began testing high-altitude balloons outfitted with Wi-Fi radio transmitters for providing Internet access in New Zealand.

Google’s “Project Loon” would consist of a “network of balloons traveling on the edge of space.”

These balloons would connect the Internet to people living in rural and remote areas of the globe.

Google’s Internet-providing balloon network would also serve during times of disaster; when regular Internet service becomes disrupted.

“Balloon-Powered Internet for Everyone,” says Google’s Project Loon webpage: http://www.google.com/loon.

And now; ladies and gentlemen: It’s time to send in the drones.

“I’m excited to announce we’ve completed construction of our first full-scale aircraft,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced on his Facebook page.

Yes, indeed, the fine folks at Facebook have constructed their own remotely-piloted aircraft, or drone, and plan on using it to extend the reach and availability of the Internet to those living in remote areas around the world.

And we’re not talking your typical miniature hobby quadcopter buzzing above your backyard like an annoying bee.

This solar-powered, V-shaped drone named “Aquila” is huge.

The Aquila drone has a wingspan of 140 feet (equivalent to a Boeing 737), and will be using a high-tech package which includes a combination of radios and lasers.

It weighs around 1,000 pounds, and is made of cured 88-gram T700 carbon fiber, which is three times stronger than steel, and yet lighter than aluminum.

The Aquila has four propellers; two on each wing.

The new data/Internet transmission laser Aquila will use is so precise and calibrated, that it could connect with a location the size of a dime from more than 10 miles away.

The lasers will be transmitting high-speed Internet signals at 10Gbps.

The Aquila will fly in a circular pattern above conventional air traffic at an altitude of 90,000 feet during the day, and 60,000 feet at night.

The plan calls for an Internet gateway ground station to transmit an Internet radio signal to a “mother” aircraft (drone) which, in turn, will relay this signal, via a laser beam, to the cluster of other drones flying in the area.

Each of these airborne, circling drones will then deliver to the smartdevices and computers on the ground, a direct wireless radio signal for accessing the Internet.

The ground coverage provided by each airborne drone will be some 31 square miles.

The aircraft is designed to remain in flight for three months, and then glide back to Earth to be refurbished and flown again.

To me, this sounds promising, and Facebook has the financial and technical resources to see it through.

Zuckerberg said Facebook will be testing Aquila’s systems in the coming months.

You can view his Facebook message here: http://tinyurl.com/bytesz1.

Facebook’s official developers channel on YouTube shows a video explaining their plan at: http://tinyurl.com/bytesz3.

Will large, high-flying drones be providing Internet access to various regions around the world?

Stay tuned to this column for further updates.

Advertise in over
250+ MN newspapers