Facebook's Connectivity Lab recently tested the first full-scale version of Aquila, a solar-powered high-altitude drone designed to deliver broadband Internet connectivity to the remotest populated corners of the globe. The first test flight was a success and lasted over 90 minutes, three times longer than originally planned.
The drone has a wingspan similar to a Boeing 737 but weighs only about as much as a car. There's still a lot of work to be done, but Facebook's engineers hope the final version will be able to stay in the air for up to three months at a time. The drone will be equipped with solar panels, which can fully recharge the drone's batteries in about 10 hours. Flying at an altitude of over 60,000 feet, one drone should be capable of providing connectivity for a circle as much as 60 miles in diameter. Full details over here.
The goal of Aquila is to provide what has been described as an "atmospheric satellite" capability—the drones will fly for up to three months at a time, orbiting over remote areas and providing connectivity for a circle as much as 60 miles in diameter, using a laser-based network "backbone" and radio signals for local bandwidth. Because of its lift-to-weight ratio, Aquila can fly as slowly as 25 miles per hour in level flight.