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The interests of Google and Facebook are intertwined in various fields. Their strategic decisions in such a competitive world, as is the world of technology, often puts them in a face-off situation. Both have a social network, interest in virtual reality and artificial intelligence, and they are fighting for a billion Dollar advertising share. And now they are exploring with drones… because dreams sell.
Facebook and Google began a race to gain influence in this field at the same time, which started their business activity. They're no longer just a social network and search engine, they're much more than that. Their latest dream is to use unmanned aerial vehicles to provide Internet service at 65,000 feet.
It's been estimated that 12% of the $98 dollars of the overall expenditures forecast for the coming decade in the field of drones will be invested in business use. Nowadays, and much more in the near future, drones will become part of our lives with regard to fire prevention, the environment, farming, traffic control, etc. which begins to awake our interest.
Aquila, the flying Facebook "bird"
During the Facebook F8 conference, held in March in San Francisco, the social network published the first images of its unmanned plane flight, named Aquila. Mike Schroepfer, the CTO, said that the drone "is a prototype with the wingspan of a Boeing 737 and as light as a small car."
— JP Mangalindan (@JPManga) marzo 26, 2015
The idea of Facebook is to use drones to provide internet access to people living in remote areas of the planet who may have never had access to the virtual world through a browser. "You have to have satellites, drones and other things that do not require large investments in infrastructure to provide Internet access," said Schroepfer during F8. That's why Facebook purchased the Ascenta start-up drones.
The role of Ascenta in Facebook's Internet.org project
The British company was purchased by Facebook for $20 million. The Asenta purchase came about from their active participation in the Zephyr project, a mix between a drone and satellite built by the company Qinetiq. This device is capable of flying above the clouds and air traffic, it's solar powered and in July 2010 it broke the world record for airtime: two weeks. Ascenta has also built some successful drone prototypes.
Facebook's ambition is not a disjointed idea, it's the core of an even more ambitious plan, called Internet.org, led by the new Connectivity Lab team. This team of 50 aeronautics and space science experts has one goal: as quoted by Yael Maguire, Director of Engineering, "to provide internet access to those who don't have it, at a low cost and from the sky".
These drones/satellites can go further than any other traditional methods. Internet.org worked with Qualcomm and Nokia to compress data, reduce the cost of cell phones and increase connections, to provide service to these remote areas, although this only provides access to 10% of 2/3 of the population who don't have coverage. They want to reach the rest of the population with these drones/satellites.
"Current satellites could give Internet access, but at a high cost", said Maguire. But with the new unmanned planes, which have the same features as traditional satellites, there are more possibilities with lower investments.
Google: the purchase of Tital Aerospace and the Loon Project
Google is working along the same lines as Facebook, which began with these types of projects before Mark Zuckerberg's social network. One of their latest deals was the acquisition of Tital Aerospace a company that develops solar drones which are able to fly at high altitude.
The acquisition of the company was a slap in the face for the search engine, because Titan Aerospace was one of Facebook's dreams, just like Ascenta, two of the largest companies that manufacture unmanned planes.
Google's idea is to increase the possibilities of the Loon Project, an initiative looking to provide Internet access to people who don't have it using hot-air balloons. The project kicked off with a test flight in June 2013, launching 30 balloons from the South Island of New Zealand. Google wants to provide Internet connection to remote areas throughout the southern hemisphere.
This purchase resulted in Google acquiring a prototype which enables them to give the same service that could be provided with the hot air balloons, but at a higher speed and greater control. If the search engine wants to create large-scale Internet access across the globe and from the sky, then the better their ability to react to changing conditions, the better their service will be.
The Titan Aerospace drones won't just provide added-value to the Loon Project, they can also be used to take HD images in real time, which is a very interesting proposal for Google Maps. It's obvious that Facebook and Google have begun a passionate race to see who can be the first in developing a global WiFi infrastructure…
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