Facebook to purchase 11,000 drones to “connect Africa”

Solara Drone

The globalization of human connection is part of a long, centuries-old trend in the “modern age.” But the 21-st century “synchronous world” still has a vast “outside”–a blank spot on the map that is about to be incorporated by a swarm of atmospheric drones.

Facebook is on course to buy a drone manufacturer that will allow the company to beam the internet top communities across Africa. The social networking company is one of the main backers of the internet.org project, whose goal is to connect the world’s remaining “offline” population. Other members include giant telecommunications corporations such as Ericsson.

The Solara drones in question are manufactured by “Titan Aerospace,” and are solar-powered UAVs that can remain in the air for up to five years at at time, at heights of up to 65,000 feet, thereby functioning as a low-level satellite. The company calls this “atmospheric parking.” Facebook is intending to build 11,000 of the drones. The project will compete with Google’s “Project Loon”, which will see 30 balloons launched into the stratosphere to provide 3G-like internet speeds–but only for 100 days at a time.

Of course, the “offline population” represents a vast market for the telecommunications “titans”; a space outside the inter-net that can be economically colonized. And with the freedom to connect comes the freedom to survey…

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2 Responses to Facebook to purchase 11,000 drones to “connect Africa”

  1. Kate Sammler says:

    I am very interested to see what activities will take place in the upper atmosphere/near space and who will regulate them (20-100 km, 65,000-328,000 ft). There is no legal definition for the upper limit of national air space and there is no clear scientific boundary between the atmosphere and outer space since molecules diminish exponentially as opposed to a definitive binary boundary between air and vacuum. Outer space is vaguely understood to be “the common heritage of mankind” via the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. As activities like this proliferate at various altitudes it is hard to know if national state space will extend to govern them. In the meantime, I suppose this leaves an unregulated middle space that can be filled with corporate robots until further notice, or maybe that will happen whether it is state or international space all the same.

  2. Fascinating, Kate! Maybe we can talk in Tampa? I’m going to come back to “space” within the next few months. Tried to sketch a few ideas here, but just preliminary thoughts: https://understandingempire.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/the-final-frontier-garrisoning-outer-space/

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