Hardware

Facebook Will Deliver Internet Via Drones With “Connectivity Lab” Project Powered By Acqhires From Ascenta

Comment

Facebook plans to bring Internet to the third-world via drones, satellites, lasers, and more. Today Mark Zuckerberg unveiled Facebook’s Connectivity Lab which will work on the Internet.org project. It’s powered by talent acqhired from solar-powered drone maker Ascenta as well as poached from NASA.

Internet.org, a partnership between Facebook and telecom industry giants like Nokia and Qualcomm, hopes to use these air- and space-born methods to bring Internet to the 5 billion people who currently lack it. Zuckerberg says that Internet.org and Facebook will work on inventing new technologies to complete the mission.

While they both have somewhat altruistic objectives, Facebook’s Connectivity Lab could compete with Google’s Project Loon, which uses huge helium balloon vessels to beam Internet to the developing world.

Screen Shot 2014-03-27 at 1.38.10 PM To bolster its talent in aerospace engineering, Facebook has acqhired the five-member team of UK-based startup Ascenta, whose members previously worked at QinetiQ, Boeing, Honeywell and the Harris Corporation. There they tackled on projects including the Breitling Orbiter and prototypes of the Zephyr, the longest-flying solar powered drone. Members of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA’s Ames Research Center, and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory have also come aboard the Facebook project.

Here’s a video explaining some plans for the Connectivity Lab:



Internet.org will use different vehicles to deliver Internet to different types of locals. In suburban areas it will use “solar-powered high altitude, long endurance aircraft” that can stay in the air for month, are easily deployed, and can provide reliable Internet connectivity. Less populated areas will be served by low-Earth orbit and geosynchronous satellites.

Both will employ “Free-space optical communication”, or FSO, which uses invisible, infrared laser beams to transmit data using light. Note that Facebook made no mention of Titan Aerospace, the drone-maker it was said to be in advanced acquisition talks with a few weeks ago.

Some will immediately think the idea of Facebook controlling a fleet of web-ready aircraft and satellites is a bit creepy. Other will assume the point is to get more people online so they can become Facebook users. Neither are necessarily wrong. But when I spoke to Mark Zuckerberg at an event at Facebook headquarters last year, he seemed earnestly adamant about the potential for Internet.org to empower the world through access to the web. Screen Shot 2014-03-27 at 2.20.57 PM In his Facebook post today, Zuckerberg explains:

In our effort to connect the whole world with Internet.org, we’ve been working on ways to beam internet to people from the sky.

Today, we’re sharing some details of the work Facebook’s Connectivity Lab is doing to build drones, satellites and lasers to deliver the internet to everyone.

Our goal with Internet.org is to make affordable access to basic internet services available to every person in the world.

We’ve made good progress so far. Over the past year, our work in the Philippines and Paraguay alone has doubled the number of people using mobile data with the operators we’ve partnered with, helping 3 million new people access the internet.

We’re going to continue building these partnerships, but connecting the whole world will require inventing new technology too. That’s what our Connectivity Lab focuses on, and there’s a lot more exciting work to do here.

Our team has many of the world’s leading experts in aerospace and communications technology, including from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and Ames Research Center. Today we are also bringing on key members of the team from Ascenta, a small UK-based company whose founders created early versions of Zephyr, which became the world’s longest flying solar-powered unmanned aircraft. They will join our team working on connectivity aircraft.

You can find more details on our efforts below. We’re looking forward to working with our Internet.org partners and operators worldwide to deploy these technologies and deliver on the dream of connecting the world.

More TechCrunch

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

2 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

2 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.