There are an estimated five billion people without Internet access in the world. It’s possible that a fleet of Wi-Fi drones are what could reduce that number. At least that’s what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is hoping.
This March, the Facebook team announced these solar-powered drones, which they’ve named Aquila, at its F8 conference.
“The idea of this is to loiter across an area at very high altitude – 60,000 to 90,000 feet in the air – stand on station for months at a time and beam down backbone Internet access,” Facebook’s chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer said.
Aerial Wi-Fi For Everyone
The drones will utilize low-orbit satellites that transmit data through laser beams between the drones and antennas and beam signals down to communities.
The drones are reportedly the length of a Boeing 747, but weigh significantly less. They are reported to stay in the air for up to three months at a time. Facebook is working on partnering with mobile companies like Samsung to help distribute their Wi-Fi. If successful, the company might be the first to get a reliable means of delivering Wi-Fi off the ground in the next few years.
The World Needs Wi-Fi
To make access more widespread, the drones will enable Wi-Fi connection where building cable infrastructure on the ground is too costly or unfeasible. Wireless Internet access currently requires a cable tower, but many parts of Africa and Latin America lack these towers, so Facebook and other companies want to devise other ways to distribute Internet without them.
A Race to the Skies
The increased revenue wider access to the Internet would generate is a driving point for many companies, which is why Facebook has some competition. Quarkson, a Portuguese startup, began testing its own SkyOrbiter Wi-Fi drones, which they hope to show in Las Vegas on May 5.
Quarkson designed both low-altitude and high-altitude drones for commercial and government use. The low-altitude drones, which operate on fossil fuels, can reach 93,000 miles and last for seven weeks. The high-altitude commercial drone, the HA75, currently reaches 3 million miles and lasts five years.
Much like Facebook, Quarkson wants to distribute Wi-Fi and LTE on an unlicensed spectrum, while also offering both those and 3G and 2G transmissions through a carrier.
Both plans are similar to Google’s Project Loon, where the company plans to distribute Internet though the use of giant balloons. It remains to be seen which is the more viable option, but recent tests by Google indicate the balloons are only operational for about 100 days.
The spread of Wi-Fi access could, theoretically, lead to increased rates of education across the world and better communication. Not only that, but it might also make access to the Internet more accessible for those living in rural areas here in the U.S. The race to have the first commercially viable means of distributing Wi-Fi is on, and we should expect to see it hit the air within the next few years.
Photo Credit: David Rodriguez Martin/Flikr There is a lot of hype about Wearables right now, but recent setbacks, such as FitBit’s recall earlier this year, prove the technology does not always support the hype surrounding it. Combatting this concern, MIT professors and grad students developed a wireless system that does not require a wearable transmitter and could be a new wave in health and other applications.
What does the technology do?
When a person is near a wireless signal, their motions modulate that signal. With wearable technology, an RF transmitter sends the wireless signal to an RF transceiver. With WiZ, however, an RF transceiver receives the modulated signal even without an RF transmitter. MIT researchers applied that principle to WiZ, which accurately extracts information from the environment and tracks moving bodies without a transmitter on the person.
While once limited to motions at least 10 cm in size, WiZ is capable of detecting millimeter-sized movements, including small breaths and heartbeats. The WiZ signal also travels through solid objects to allow for motion, breathing, and heart rate monitoring from the other side of a door or wall.
The technology can track the movements of up to four people in the same room or three people in a different room. WiZ can also localize up to five people in the same room and four on the other side of a wall based on tracking their breathing motions.
For now, it senses movements, vital signs, and hand gestures, but this technology could also detect emotion in the future. As researchers hone its scope of detection, WiZ could predict emotions based on the biological factors that accompany them, such as a faster heart rate when someone is excited.
Who can use this technology?
This versatile technology lends itself to a wide range of uses. These are just some of the useful and practical ways this technology could be implemented.
Medical Teams: As a breathing and heart rate monitor, hospitals and caretakers would benefit, as they could monitor patients and loved ones while tending to other patients and tasks.
Parents: Similarly, parents can use WiZ as a futuristic baby monitor that senses a baby’s vitals and movements from the other room. If the baby’s breathing slows, for example, that could be a sign of deep sleep as opposed to quicker breathing while the baby is still awake.
Emergency Services: First responders could use this technology to find people trapped under wreckage following a disaster if they are breathing but cannot move or make noises to alert first responders where they are. Law enforcement and the military may use WiZ to scope out locations they plan to enter to prevent an ambush, or police could monitor prisoners in jail.
Gamers: This technology could allow video game companies to create systems and games where players don’t need a camera system or wearable device to accurately detect their movements, which improves the virtual reality experience.
All new technologies have their opportunities and drawbacks, and this Wi-Fi system steps in line with the rest. This technology proves that Wi-Fi is a powerful force that, when used correctly, can achieve more—with little need of wearables or other transceivers—than previously thought possible.
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