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Facebook axed scheme to provide free internet using bird-sized drones

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In 2017, Facebook imagined a scheme that used fixed-wing, bird-sized drones to provide high-speed internet to people living in remote areas.

Business Insider reports that the project, named Catalina (named after an island in California that uses pigeons to ferry messages back to the mainland) was shut down in 2018. The aim of the project was to make it easier for people living in isolated places to stream videos or undertake other data-intensive tasks on their mobile devices.

The drones proposed for the Catalina project were to be the size of sparrows and would have contained solid-state drives laden with media. They were to be the go-between step for the signal for cellphone towers and peoples’ mobiles. The drones were not intended to be a replacement for mobile phone networks but were rather a way of getting more people in developing countries or other zones with internet access difficulties onto their platform. Based on the BI reporting, it is unclear whether prototypes of the sparrow drones was ever completed or whether the company simply decided it was not feasible to continue.

Around the same period Facebook stopped pursuing the Catalina project, it also canned the development of drones for the Aquila project. Aquila started in 2015 and envisioned giant solar-powered drones flying at altitudes of between 58,000 – 85,000 feet, completing three-miles circuits for months on end while broadcasting free internet to billions of people in developing countries who do not have ready access to the internet. Facebook decided last year, that instead of developing its own drones, it would work with partners such as Airbus on high-altitude internet delivery.

Facebook also pulled the plug on its Aquila drone project in 2018, which was intended to broadcast free internet to people in developing countries.

Google similarly abandoned its project to use giant drones to broadcast internet to the masses. Called Titan, the concept was ditched by Google in 2017, following a number of failed tests.

To check out similar stories from us, try reading how China used dove drones for surveillance or how drones helped to relocate bird’s nests that were at risk of catching on fire in Pennsylvania.

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