Nation & World

Facebook gives up on building internet-beaming drones

Company will close its facility in England

FILE PHOTO: A 3D-printed Facebook like button is seen in front of the Facebook logo, in this illustration taken October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A 3D-printed Facebook like button is seen in front of the Facebook logo, in this illustration taken October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

Four years after starting a project to bring internet access to remote locations using internet-beaming drones, Facebook is giving up on designing its own aircraft.

Instead, the company said, it will work with aerospace manufacturer Airbus and other partners.

As part of the decision to end its project, Facebook also is closing a facility in Bridgwater, England, where it was developing drones.

In a blog post, Facebook engineer Yael Maquire said other companies have been investing in the development of high-altitude aircraft and other technology necessary to beam internet service from airborne platforms.

“Given these developments, we’ve decided not to design or build our own aircraft any longer, and to close our facility in Bridgwater,” Maguire wrote.

Facebook launched its drone program in 2014 and developed a solar-powered drone called Aquila. The aircraft had a wingspan equal to that of a Boeing 737 and was designed to stay in the air for months at a time.

But Aquila had just two test flights, according to Maguire’s post. One of those, its maiden flight in 2016, ended with part of its wing breaking off just before landing.

Facebook isn’t the only tech giant trying to beam internet access down from above. Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., has a similar project, known as Project Loon, which uses balloons. That effort is further along.

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Last year, Alphabet said it partnered with AT&T and T-Mobile to provide basic internet access through Loon balloons in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

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