Facebook abandoned development of its own internet-beaming drones for unconnected regions in favour of working with aerospace companies on similar airborne connectivity solutions.
The company had been working on its Aquila project since 2014 and planned to use the high-altitude, solar-powered drones to provide internet connectivity in hard to reach areas – including underserved regions and areas affected by natural disasters.
In a statement Facebook said its project made significant progress in both drone design, through its development centre in the UK, and in perfecting the connectivity technology needed to run high-altitude systems. It also noted progress with regulators on spectrum and aviation policy.
However, with leading aerospace companies now investing in similar technologies, Facebook said it would instead collaborate on their projects. It also plans to continue to work with aviation industry bodies and international regulators on securing spectrum for drone connectivity.
“It’s been exciting to see leading companies in the aerospace industry start investing in this technology,” the company stated. “Given these developments, we’ve decided not to design or build our own aircraft any longer and to close our facility.”
“Going forward, we’ll continue to work with partners like Airbus on [high altitude pseudo satellite] HAPS connectivity generally, and on the other technologies needed to make this system work, like flight control computers and high-density batteries.”
In addition to systems developed by aerospace giants, rival Alphabet is also developing airbourne connectivity provision for underserved areas through its Project Loon, having previously scrapped a plan to use drones.
Facebook announced the closure of the unit almost a year to the day it revealed details of its second test flight. At the time, it said details from the test would “continue the Aquila programme’s progress to help bring the world closer together through connectivity”.
It was not all smooth sailing, however: the project endured a torrid first test with significant damage caused when its original iteration crashed after 90 minutes due to a “structural failure”.