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“Connectivity for everyone, everywhere is one of the great challenges of our generation. Facebook has already connected nearly 100 million people as a result of our efforts,” said Yael Maguire, a director of engineering at Facebook in a blog post, announcing that the company was no longer pursuing its plan of developing its own high-flying solar-powered UAVs for delivering internet within the framework of the Aquila project.
The company later clarified that the Aquila project itself will continue with Facebook’s partners, and that the company is abandoning just the goal of designing and building its own drones in-house.
Facebook said that although the Aquila project which bean in 2014 had made important breakthroughs in communications technology, other aerospace companies are now working to design and build high-altitude platform stations (HAPS).
“Given these developments, we’ve decided not to design or build our own aircraft any longer, and to close our facility in Bridgwater (UK),” Maguire wrote. “Going forward, we’ll continue to work with partners like Airbus on HAPS connectivity generally, and on the other technologies needed to make this system work, like flight control computers and high-density batteries.”
Initially, Aquila was Facebook’s bold stratosphere internet project that imagined gigantic drones running partially on solar power. The drones could remain in flight for long periods of time and beam down LTE service to remote parts of the world, according to theverge.com.
Two successful full-scale test flights of the Aquila were conducted, demonstrating that the aircraft’s design was viable. On the aircraft’s first flight in June 2016 at Yuma, Arizona, it crashed while landing. Maguire sad Facebook has made progress on key parts of the system, such as setting records with millimeter wave technology in air-to-ground and point-to-point communication.
According to uasmagazine.com, Facebook is working on a proposal for the 2019 World Radio Conference to secure more spectrum for HAPS and will participate on aviation advisory boards and rule-making committees, both in the U.S. and internationally.
In addition, Maguire said the company is working with partners on new infrastructure projects and supporting entrepreneurs to help bring internet connectivity to the 4 billion people who don’t have access to it.