Facebook abandons quest to build its own internet drones

Facebook announced today that it no longer follows its plan to develop its own high-flying drones for Internet delivery, an initiative within its Aquila project that began four years ago. The news was saved in a blog post titled "High Altitude Connectivity: The Next Chapter," written by Yael Maguire, Facebook's engineering director.

Initially, Aquila was Facebook's daring stratospheric Internet project that imagined giant drones that were partially powered by solar energy and could stay in flight for long periods of time and transmit LTE service to remote parts of the world. In general terms, Aquila was one of the many ways, along with Internet.org and other initiatives, that Facebook is trying to help the developing world and remote parts of the Earth connect, so that they too can become users of Facebook.

The Aquila project conducted two high-profile public test flights of a prototype drone, the first of which in 2016 resulted in serious damage to the aircraft during its landing. Now, instead of building its own aircraft, Facebook says it will now focus on working with partners on high-altitude Internet delivery systems and on policy issues related to spectrum protection and the establishment of federal rules on the operation of such systems.

"As we have worked on these efforts, it has been exciting to see leading aerospace companies start investing in this technology as well, including the design and construction of new high-altitude aircraft," writes Maguire. "Given these developments, we have decided not to design or build our own aircraft any longer, and close our Bridgwater facilities." Maguire is referring to an installation in Bridgewater, England that spearheaded the Aquila project, specifically the design and development of the drone prototype itself.

Facebook announced in November last year that it was working with Airbus to develop better versions of what is known as high-altitude platform station (HAPS), systems that can be incorporated into aircraft with the order to transmit at high speed Internet. Maguire says the company is also "actively participating in a series of aviation advisory boards and rulemaking committees in the US and internationally"

Update 6/27, 7:28 PM ET: He clarified that the Aquila project itself will continue with Facebook partners, and that the company is abandoning only the goal of designing and building its own drones within the company. The title has been updated to reflect this fact.

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