Four years ago, Facebook shared with the world its ambitious dream of building massive drones. Today, that dream is dead.
In a Tuesday blog post, the company announced the end of its Aquila program, an effort to construct a “high altitude platform station system” (read: massive drones) that sought to bring high-speed internet access — and, of course, access to Facebook — to an estimated 4 billion people across the globe who do not have it.
“As we’ve worked on these efforts, it’s been exciting to see leading companies in the aerospace industry start investing in this technology too — including the design and construction of new high-altitude aircraft,” Yael Maguire, an engineering director at the company, said in the Facebook post. “Given these developments, we’ve decided not to design or build our own aircraft any longer, and to close our facility in Bridgwater.”
Facebook will continue to work with companies such as Airbus on software and hardware to help aircraft beam internet down to the masses.
The solar-powered Aquila had the wingspan of a Boeing 737. It was meant to fly at high altitudes and beam signals down to small dishes and towers, which would convert them into Wi-Fi and LTE signals for people in remote areas.
It completed two test flights, including one in 2016 that was investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board over a “structural failure” that left the drone “substantially damaged.”