Facebook announced that he would no longer pursue his dream of building a gigantic solar-powered aircraft to blow up the Internet to underserved laser communities. Surprisingly, this is not practical.
In an article on the company's coding sub-site, Yael Maguire of Facebook announced that "we have decided to no longer design or build our own aircraft and close our facilities at Bridgewater". the loss of 16 jobs specific to the development and maintenance of the aircraft, confirmed the company at TechCrunch, although many other aspects of the project were not affected.
The company will continue its work with partners, such as Airbus, to help advance the "High Altitude Platform Stations" (HAPS) such as Aquila.
The program is ongoing since 2014 (the acquisition of Ascenta seems to be its real beginning) and public since 2015, and had its first test flight in 2016 – resulting in a ' structural failure, "a hard landing, and NTSB investigation. The second test flight was better, but far from perfect.
The craft itself, a huge flying V that stayed at altitude at an extremely low power pulled by solar cells, seems to have worked very well, in fact, despite some snags. But Facebook is not the only company that seeks to engage in high-powered, low-altitude communications gear.
"In working on these efforts, we were delighted to see leading companies in the aerospace industry start investing in this technology, including the design and construction of new high-altitude aircraft," writes Maguire. .
Given the sheer scale of the investments needed to build such a machine from scratch and the huge lack of expertise and core competencies between a social network and a seasoned aerospace company it is no wonder that Facebook has decided to reduce its losses.
The decision was preceded by a Business Insider report that the project had more or less stalled: its chief and chief engineer left last month after reading between the lines efforts to double the project with a redesign and private shed were rejected.
The Aquila Plan along with other ambitious connectivity ideas, some of which are still under study, was conceived in a period that one might call "Facebook pic" while he was at the peak of his growth. level of criticism that he faces today, and when his goals were high in many ways.
The company no doubt plans to pursue "the next billion" in a way that is not so expensive or unprecedented. Maguire says work will continue, but not so directly:
In the future, we will continue to work with partners such as Airbus on HAPS connectivity in general, and on other technologies needed to make this system work, such as flight control computers and aircraft. high density batteries. On the policy side, we will be working on a proposal for the 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference to get more spectrum for HAPS stations, and we will actively participate in a number of advisory boards and regulatory committees in the US and abroad.
It is difficult to criticize Facebook for its ambition, even though at the time there were many who opposed this extremely techno-utopian idea of how the Internet could be delivered to communities. isolated. They have surely said, and will continue to say, that money would be better spent for fiber laying or basic infrastructure establishment. We will see.
I asked Facebook to provide me with more information, for example about the projects that will be specifically supported, and what will happen to the IP and the material included in it. the Aquila program.
Although a Facebook representative refused to answer my specific questions, he insisted that the Aquila project was both successful and far-reaching; although a real aircraft is no longer part of it (this is the duty of the real aerospace companies), there has been a lot of other advances in the field of transmission, propulsion, and so on. , which are still very much in development. What the company plans to do with those is still unclear, but we can probably expect news on this front over the next few months, as and when that the program will adjust.