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Drone Race Between Alphabet and Facebook Intensifies

Business Insider
In a bid to finally settle which tech giant is the more sinister, both Alphabet (Google's parent company) and Facebook have started taking further steps with their plans to dominate the sky with drones. Both companies have registered new designs with the US Federal Aviation Administration. Alphabet are planning to start running tests at Spaceport America in New Mexico, which sadly is now most well known for the Virgin Galactic crash late last year. It has remained more or less unused since then.

Supposedly Facebook have also just received a prototype of a solar-powered unit, presumably an early iteration of the airborne Wi-Fi broadcasters they intend to put into action. Alphabets machinations are likely similar, but it's worth bearing in mind that Google have already started sending Wi-Fi broadcasting devices into the air in the form of balloons. The difference is that these giant drones will theoretically be able to stay in the air longer, and far higher, somewhere in the region of 90,000 feet.

Facebook actually revealed what their variation on this theme would look like back in July. The drone is called Aquila (possibly after the constellation, which is typically drawn as an eagle), it has a 42 meter wingspan, a carbon fiber body and is outfitted with lasers and radio transmitters which will allow it to beam internet down to the masses (and possibly blow up Twitter HQ). The lightweight frame will also mean that the craft should be capable of staying up for around 90 days at a time.

According to reports, weight is still the issue that's holding development back, for Facebook and possibly for Google too. Aquila was originally intended to weigh 400kg, but the prototype is supposedly north of 500kg, which might be too heavy to maintain the altitude in the way they want it to. Facebook are also still tinkering around with different ways of broadcasting wireless signal, which might suggest that they're looking for ways that a slightly heavier, lower-hanging craft might serve the same purpose.

Google, meanwhile, are also working on another, far smaller scale drone project. Two of the designs they've registered with the FAA, the M2 and the B3, are tiny, weighing in at 2.25kg and 900g respectively. It's hard to say exactly what their purpose will be, but it could be related to the development of the 'Project Wing' delivery service, similar in theme to Amazon's drone-based package delivery program.

The fact remains though that Alphabet are also putting a lot of time and energy into the development of the larger drones, as evidenced by their activity in New Mexico, which had already served as a testing ground for large drones developed by Titan Aerospace (now owned by Google). It's unlikely we'll see any development made public for a while yet, but with Google's balloons already in the air and Internet.org's popularity continuing to flounder, this slower, far less exciting version of drone racing is well and truly underway. Seriously though, proper drone racing is awesome, check it out.



Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF


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Drone Race Between Alphabet and Facebook Intensifies Reviewed by Callum Davies on Wednesday, November 11, 2015 Rating: 5

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