A few weeks ago it was rumored that Facebook would buy Titan Aerospace for long-duration solar-powered drones to provide Internet access in the developing world. Today, however, the company announced that it was actually buying Ascenta, a small British firm that does the same thing (or perhaps it will buy both of them and has only announced one). From the New York Times:

Watch out, Google. Facebook is gunning for the title of World’s Coolest Place to Work. And its arsenal includes unmanned drones, lasers, satellites and virtual reality headsets.

Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and chief executive of Facebook, announced on Thursday that the company was creating a new lab of up to 50 aeronautics experts and space scientists to figure out how to beam Internet access down from solar-powered drones and other “connectivity aircraft.”

To start the effort, Facebook is buying Ascenta, a small British company whose founders helped to create early versions of an unmanned solar-powered drone, the Zephyr, which flew for two weeks in July 2010 and broke a world record for time aloft.

“We want to think about new ways of connectivity that dramatically reduce the cost,” said Yael Maguire, engineering director for the new Facebook Connectivity Lab. “We want to explore whether there are ways from the sky to deliver the Internet access.


The lab is part of Mr. Zuckerberg’s ambitious Internet.org project to bring the Internet to the two-thirds of the world’s population without Internet access. With partners like Qualcomm and Nokia, Facebook is working on technology to compress Internet data, cut the cost of mobile phones and extend connections to people who can’t afford them or live in places that are too difficult to reach.

That last part of the problem — reaching the 10 percent of the world’s population that are in areas difficult to reach via traditional Internet solutions — is the initial focus of the connectivity lab, said Mr. Maguire.

Currently, satellites can deliver Internet to sparsely populated areas with spotty Internet connections, but the cost is very high, said Mr. Maguire.

Facebook wants to explore whether access could be delivered more cheaply through both new types of satellites and unmanned aircraft.

The company envisions drones that could stay aloft for months, even years, at a time at an altitude of more than 12 miles from the surface of the earth — far above other planes and the ever-changing weather.

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Comment by Jack Crossfire on March 28, 2014 at 1:02am

There's still 1 drone startup left to buy out.

Comment by mP1 on March 28, 2014 at 2:02am

Hobbyking! [b

Comment by Jiro Hattori on March 28, 2014 at 4:33am

3DR is next target of Google;)

Comment by Gary Mortimer on March 28, 2014 at 6:00am
Well the UK does hold the current flight endurance record for this type of platform at 14 days. I hear tell it only landed because they had completed the tasks they needed to. It could have kept flying. I also hear it was much much harder than the team made it look.
Comment by Pedals2Paddles on March 28, 2014 at 8:13am

Google already runs my entire life. Gmail, google voice, google calendar, Android smart phone, single sign for places like this, search provider, cloud storage and sync, cloud computing, music, note taking and lists, etc.  So it stands to reason I should have a Google Drone.

Comment by Quadzimodo on March 28, 2014 at 9:05am

I am truly captivated by the potential of Solar Assisted UAVs, especially here in the down under.  There seems no better way to survey a sun burnt country from above, than to harness the energy of the sun to do it.

Looking at the World Insolation Map, it seems clear that countries with lower latitudes will benefit most from this new technology.

I'm workin' on a shoe string budget, and nobody is going to be buying me up any time soon, but I do have my own solar project underway...

Comment by Pedals2Paddles on March 28, 2014 at 9:07am

When you wheel that thing out into the front yard, do your neighbors get worried?  Mine probably would.

Comment by Quadzimodo on March 28, 2014 at 9:42am

P2P - Honestly, it is probably just seen as more of the same thing from their point of view.  I am extremely lucky that they are all so very tolerant of my rather eccentric pursuits.

At least they will never have to see the Dekacopter flying above their homes, as I have resolved never to fly that thing anywhere near suburbia.

I am, however, a little worried what they might say when my new workspace turns up next week.

Comment by Brent Alderton on March 28, 2014 at 2:04pm
Looks very interesting Quadzimodo! Your an aussie as well? What part? I'm up at the Gold Coast and luckily my neighbours are quite tolerant of having a drone flying and hovering above the neighbourhood.
Comment by Carles Gelada on March 28, 2014 at 4:53pm

Quadzimodo, that looks awsome! do you have any estimation of the autonomy that you might get?


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