The race is on between Google and Facebook to get the world connected via a new, pioneering method: Drones. In recent weeks, both companies have quietly submitted new drone models with the US Federal Aviation Administration with the view of providing broadband internet access from thousands of feet above Earth. Over a billion people still live out of the range of a wireless connection but, flying for months at a time, drones could potentially connect entire cities.
Both Facebook and Google, or rather the new parent company, Alphabet, profit through advertising and so reaching new users would benefit them both by providing new advertising markets. Earlier this year, Facebook unveiled an enormous solar powered drone called Aquila. The aircraft was developed in the UK, spanning 43 metres and able to reach heights of 90 000ft. Around the same time, Alphabet acquired a New Mexico start-up, Titan Aerospace, who have already developed high altitude solar powered drones. In May, the company was relocated to Silicon Valley, the home of the Google Access team, following the crash of an experimental drone. Google Access plans to use unpowered floating balloons to deliver new wireless connections.
Both companies are, however, facing the same problem that stumped the Wright brothers in 1905: weight. The issue was highlighted when it was revealed that Aquila weighed in at 100kg heavier than anticipated. This was despite being composed of carbon fibre, a material that is lighter than aluminium and almost three times as strong as steel.
The use of drones comes with a whole host of associated hurdles, spanning from regulatory problems to mechanical difficulties, yet the rate of progress made thus far is impressive. Perhaps this is the beginning of a new age for technology.