Facebook Connectivity Lab engineering director Yael Maguire spoke about the social network’s plans to use drones to help connect developing regions to the Internet in a conversation with Mashable CEO Pete Cashmore at the 2014 Social Good Summit in New York Monday.
Maguire prefers to refer to the unmanned aircraft as planes, rather than drones, and he said of the challenges facing Connectivity Lab:
In order for us to fly these planes — unmanned planes that have to fly for months, or perhaps years at a time — we actually have to fly above the weather, above all airspace. That’s between 60,000 and 90,000 feet. Routinely, planes don’t fly there, and certainly not drones.
Maguire told Cashmore the drones will be roughly the size of 747 commercial airplanes, but much lighter, adding that one of the models being worked on by the Connectivity Lab is the length of “about six or seven Priuses, but is the weight of four of the tires of a Prius.”
On the current regulations, which mandate one pilot per plane, he said:
We can’t have one person per plane if we want to figure out how to connect the world.
We’re taking on a whole bunch of technical risk, but we’re also taking on whole bunch of regulatory risk, because there are no rules about flying planes outside of 60,000 feet and above. There are no rules about beaming signals down to people in those environments.
Maguire told Cashmore the Connectivity Lab team hopes to test one of its drones in a yet-to-be-determined U.S. location in 2015, and his optimistic time frame for Internet access being provided by planes is three to five years, adding:
We have to push the edge of battery technology, of solar technology, of composite technology … There are a whole bunch of challenges that our team is super excited to work on.
There have been a lot of negative connotations associated with drones. We need to take it back.
Readers: What do you think of Connectivity Lab’s plans?