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Facebook’s Aquila Drone Creates a Laser-net In the Sky

Drones. Lasers. Solar power. More details about Facebook's Aquila drone

1 min read
How Facebook's Aquila drone will deliver the internet.
Illustration: Facebook

Facebook’s goal of networking the world means extending communications to everyone on the planet. Facebook has started to test new approaches to ground-based systems. And it’s continuing to work on its futuristic drone-based communications system, Aquila.

At the company’s F8 developer conference held in San Francisco today, Facebook vice president of engineering Jay Parikh talked a little more about Aquila’s development, and how it would use laser links to bring the internet to rural areas in developing countries.

 According to Parikh, Facebook’s UAV platform looks like a giant boomerang. “We need to fly it for months at a time,” he said, “so we had to invent a new aircraft to accomplish this; most aircraft aren’t designed to fly for months and beam lasers across the sky to bring Internet to rural communities.”

At this point, the plane, about the size of a passenger jet, is nothing but wing:

“We took off the tail,” Parikh said, “that saves mass and drag, but makes it hard to steer, so we had to do a ton of work in steering components.”

The Facebook engineers also removed the cockpit, he said, a sophisticated flight control system to replace it, and eliminated fuel tanks, the drone will be solar powered. Which leaves the wing.

“We built that out of carbon fiber,” Parikh said, “to make it light—and to look cool.”

Aquila will connect by laser to an internet access point in a city, then feed that connection out to rural communities. Eventually, he says, the drones will extend the networks by connecting to each other with lasers.

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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