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Drones in ChinaChina is a major industrial leader with a booming economy and population. However, upon closer examination, one finds that China has a rampant problem of poverty in its rural regions. Ironically, the areas most impacted are those that tout agricultural prowess. In fact, around five of China’s most impoverished counties are major cotton-producing areas. To help combat this, new and unconventional technologies are providing the solution to low agricultural yields and unsustainable farming practices. Meet drones — the latest in portable flying technology used to aid in the fight against poverty in rural China.

Here are three ways that drones and other networking and communication technologies have taken root in impoverished Chinese communities:

  1. Drones and satellite imagery: Drones monitor the well-being of crops from the sky and assist in spraying chemicals and other supplements. Drones can also take photos of crop fields and relay these images back to farmers. The photos can determine the exact amount of soil, water and other resources needed for their agriculture to thrive. This practice is dubbed as “precision agriculture.” With the help of technology, this technique is increasingly applied to crops like corn and soy in subsistence-based China. More than 55,000 agricultural drones are currently in use in China. They have sprayed pesticides over an estimated 30 million hectares of land, according to the director of the China Agrotech Extension Association.
  2. Boosting yield and incomes: In 2019, nearly 4,500 drones in the Chinese province of Xinjiang accomplished agricultural productivity for 65% of the cotton fields in the region. Although it may seem as though drones are stealing jobs from the average working farmer, their subsequent introduction actually raised Xinjiang’s cotton output by 400,000 tons. An increase of $430 million in revenue is another result of the use of drones. Furthermore, one drone can do the work of sixty farmers in one hour and can spray pesticides 50 to 80 times faster than traditional farming. Thus, an efficient agricultural and harvesting environment is created. Drones essentially stimulate economic growth and support the rural working class in China by removing time and labor costs from the equation, helping farmers escape poverty.
  3. New networks: Drones are well-suited to the rugged farming environment in China. They can fly high above a grassy region or traverse difficult terrains often found within rural regions. These drones have easy adaptability and control through cell phones. This is especially useful for farmers who cannot entirely survey those areas individually. Additionally, farming data from drones has allowed farmers to access weather and disaster warnings, allowing them to prepare in advance. Those features inspired the government to conjure up a new idea: internet towers. China’s Ministry of Commerce employed a widespread plan to apply e-business to over 80% of its villages to combat poverty. Farmers utilize so-called e-commerce service stations, with the help of these newly created network and cable signals, to reach new markets to sell their products. In fact, online retail sales of agriculture have seen a significant yearly increase of 25.3%, with rural areas constituting a majority of this percentage.

The innovative and real-life applications of drones are virtually limitless and present a new way of combating global poverty. This Chinese experiment shows positive results and could soon become emblematic of drone-based agriculture on a much larger scale. In turn, this will help farmers that struggle with low agricultural yields, integrate them into an increasingly tech-based economic environment and lift them out of poverty.

– Mihir Gokhale
Photo: Pixabay

Poverty-Solving TechnologyWhen thinking of drones, the image that comes to mind for many people is of warfare drones and precision strikes. This is not all drones can be used for, however. WeRobotics is an organization that uses drones for humanitarian practices. This organization utilizes the positive impacts of robotic technology to address global problems such as poverty, health and post-disaster reconstruction.

WeRobotics established itself as a not-for-profit organization in December 2015. Since then, their progress has been astounding. WeRobotics and its Flying Labs work with NGOs, government agencies and universities in over 20 countries to spread this beneficial poverty-solving technology.

The company sets up Flying Labs in various countries that serve as a “hub of robotics technology, where staff host training sessions, webinars and teach people how to use technology.” These labs are also “incubators” for the formation of new, local businesses. There are now flying labs in Jamaica, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Chile, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Benin, Cameroon, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Réunion, India, Nepal, the Philippines, Japan, Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

The robotic technology in these Flying Labs is used for a variety of purposes.The drones can be used for mapping, cargo delivery, drone journalism and conservation. In Nepal, for example, the drones were used to map out the damage done to a region after an earthquake. The map made by the drones was then printed out and annotated by locals to determine strategies and priorities for reconstruction. They also used swimming drones to better understand glacial lakes, which lakes formed by the melting of Himalayan glaciers. These lakes, when forming, have a “tsunami” effect on the areas around them. The swimming drones are used to understand how these lakes are formed and to predict new formations and determine vulnerable areas.

In Peru, the drones are primarily used for cargo delivery of important medicines and vaccines. In the Peruvian Amazon, many people live in areas that are not close to roads or highways. Thus, the main form of transportation is river boat, which can be slow, unreliable and costly. The drones are able to make deliveries of important medicines, such as anti-venom, in a fraction of the time it takes the river boats. In one example, anti-venom was delivered by a drone in 35 minutes, when it would have taken a river boat 6 hours. This can be the difference between life and death. In this way, the drones become poverty-solving technology as they remove barriers created by regional poverty.

One of the most important tenets of WeRobotic’s work is their focus on democratization and localization of technology. This means giving the technology and training to locals with no strings attached. They train locals to be able to use the technology themselves so that the project is respectful of local communities’ autonomy and is also sustainable. Locals in Nepal were able to complete an unfinished map on their own after the WeRobotics team left the site. Because the locals are given access to the information that makes the technology work, they are able to come up with solutions to problems themselves.

Some things that the company notes can be improved are the affordability, repairability, durability, simplicity and battery life of the drones.

This poverty-solving technology has a promising future. It has already provided local communities with means of mapping and transportation, things that are underappreciated in well-off countries, but necessary for civilian life. The possibilities for these humanitarian drones are far-reaching. With more and more people being trained around the world at these Flying Labs, there is more possibilities for improvements and innovative solutions.

– Sarah Faure
Photo: Pixabay

Non-military dronesIn the modern world, the term “drone” has developed two very different connotations. Media coverage about drones is either about the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in war zones or about the recreational use of drones for photography or entertainment. But what about drones being used for serious purposes, excluding military combat. Around the globe, people are using non-military drones for humanitarian purposes and to support global development. Here are five ways that non-military drones are saving lives across the globe:

5 Ways Non-Military Drones Help People Globally

  1. Transporting Medicine and Medical Equipment
    Often faster than helicopters and other traditional methods, drones are ideal for carrying blood, vaccines and small pieces of medical equipment. The South African National Blood Service (SANBS) plans to begin using drones to deliver blood to rural areas for blood transfusions, and Ghana is already doing so. In 2018, Vanuatu was the first country to use a drone to transport vaccines to rural areas. Norway has begun using drones to quickly bring defibrillators to the scene of emergencies. In medicine, time is of the essence, and quick delivery can save lives.
  2. Assessing Disaster Areas
    Drones are a relatively fast and inexpensive way to obtain images of natural disasters so that emergency responders are aware of the situation and well-equipped to act accordingly. In 2012, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) used drones to assess the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in Haiti. According to the IOM, when they used drones “The complete analysis specifying which houses had been destroyed and damaged was available four days after the flooding event, on November 1. In comparison, satellite imagery requested at the same time from the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT) was not available until one week after the drone analysis.” In addition, to the advantage of their speed, drone images are clearer than satellite images and drones are able to fly below the cloud cover, enabling them to capture images that a satellite might miss due to cloud obstruction.
  3. Fighting Wildfires
    Fighting fires is a dangerous job, and every year firefighters die in the line of duty. In recent years, California has used drones to assist firefighters from the sky. Fighting fire aerially is not a new concept, but in the past planes and helicopters have been manned by a crew, which is also a dangerous job. NBC News reports that between 2006 and 2016, 24 percent of wildland firefighter deaths were due to plane and helicopter crashes. Unmanned aircraft are safer for firefighters, can operate for long stretches of time, and are not limited by conditions as much as helicopters and planes are.
  4. Tracking Mosquitoes That Spread Disease
    Mosquitos are a frequent carrier of malaria in Peru. In a 2019 study published in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, drones in Amazonian Peru were able to identify bodies of water containing mosquito larvae. With this knowledge, scientists can intervene in these sites to control the mosquito population in an effort to curb malaria transmission.
  5. Bringing Internet Access To Remote Areas
    In 2016, Facebook launched a project to use drones to provide internet access to people living in remote areas. The Aquila drone, powered by solar energy, would fly at 60,000 feet and help people in isolated regions connect with others around the globe. The Aquila project was shut down in 2018 as Facebook shifted to other projects, but the idea of drones being used to connect people in remote areas to the internet remains a compelling one. Airbus is reportedly working on a similar project, the Zephyr S, which includes the capabilities of providing internet access.

While unmanned aircraft are relatively new technology, it is already clear that non-military drones are making a difference around the globe. As such technology continues to advance, more talk of these innovative uses of drones should be expected.

– Meredith Charney
Photo: Flickr

Landmine CrisisLandmines are a destructive weapon of war that often times outlive the conflict they had been implemented for. Today, civilians around the world are inheriting the landmine crisis from both current wars and earlier conflicts. An estimated 110 million landmines are active in the ground right now, killing and maiming more than 5,000 people every year.

The Difficulties of Landmine Removal

Although landmines are an urgent global issue, removing them is painstakingly difficult for three main reasons:

  1. Time—the detection and demining of landmines take a good deal of time. In fact, it is estimated that if landmines continue to be removed at the current rate (with no new mines added), it would take approximately 1,100 years to completely rid the world of them.
  2. Cost—mines only cost between $3 and $30, making them effective tools for combat in both cost and casualty effectiveness. Removing them, however, can cost between $300 to $1,000. Removing all landmines would cost anywhere between $50 to $100 billion. Since most countries affected tend to be poorer, the cost of mine removal can be extremely detrimental.
  3. Risk—most minefields are unmarked. It is not unusual to find mines laid in agricultural fields, around irrigation systems and in forests that provide villages with firewood. (That is if they are not inside the villages themselves). Civilians and professionals alike are at risk of death or severe injuries; for every 5,000 mines successfully removed, one deminer is killed and two more are wounded.

Instead of becoming discouraged by how problematic the landmine crisis actually is, one Indian teen rose to the challenge of innovating smarter landmine removal.

The Inventor of the Mine-Detecting Air Drones

One day, now 15-year-old techie Harshwardhansinh Zala came across a YouTube video of military men who were detecting landmines in an active minefield. While soldiers explained the landmine crisis to their viewers, one landmine exploded. Consequently, the blast killed and injured many of the soldiers present. The video horrified Zala, who felt like he could be doing more to aid in the demining efforts. This spurred him and a few of his friends to begin a startup electronics company named Aerobotics7. Their primary task? To create a prototypical air drone to replace human deminers. Hypothetically, the drone could detect and mark buried landmines while being remotely controlled by an operator at a safe distance.

Zala explains how the drone would work: “Our drone will go on to the field, survey the whole ground, send the real-time signals to the army base station, and our drone will also drop a package to mark the location. The army can detonate the landmines with our wireless detonator, without any human risk.”

Zala plans on giving the finished product to his government to help them safely detect mines.

Although his drone may not decrease the cost of removing mines or speed up the process of demining, it would help spot and mark landmines across the globe, potentially saving the lives of those who might have accidentally stumbled upon an unmarked minefield otherwise. Warning civilians of the dangers around them is the most time-sensitive aspect of the landmine crisis, after all, and though removing all landmines may take centuries, Zala’s air drone could be helping people stay safe today.

Haley Hiday
Photo: Sumit Baruh for Forbes India

10 Ways Drones Could Change Healthcare
Drones first got their day in the sun when Amazon announced their use in commercial package delivery. This announcement opened up Pandora’s box for the use of drones in other fields as well. Soon they were being used for delivering food and aid to inaccessible, disaster-stricken areas. Healthcare, too, picked up on this extremely transformational idea and companies started to explore their possible use in delivering medications and blood samples. Here are 10 ways drones could change healthcare.

10 Ways Drones Could Change Healthcare

  1. Shower contraceptives over Sub-Saharan Africa: The U.N. currently uses five-foot-long drones to drop condoms to Sub-Saharan regions of Africa such as rural Ghana, where only a fraction of women has access to contraception.
  2. Deliver vaccines to poor and inaccessible countries and areas: New research published in 2016 led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center suggests that using drones to deliver vaccines in poor countries might result in reducing costs, in turn improving vaccination rates. According to the research, the price of routine immunizations is expected to rise by 80 percent between 2010 and 2020. One-third of this cost is attributed to supply chain logistics. Using drones for transportation would mean eliminating most of these logistical costs, ensuring that vaccines remain affordable.
  3. As a savior in time-critical situations: In April 2016, tech giant Google patented a new device that can call for a drone in case of an emergency with just the press of a button. These drones that fly in for medical emergencies are equipped with specific lifesaving medical equipment.
  4. In aid of heart attack patients: One of the 10 ways drones could change healthcare is by delivering Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) to patients in need. According to research conducted by the University of Toronto, 85 percent of cardiac arrests happen outside hospitals and, up to 30 percent of the time, the AEDs are locked inside closed buildings. TU Delft Ambulance Drone is a prototype that has lifesaving technologies such as an AED and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) aids onboard. Upon landing, it is capable of instructing bystanders on how to perform CPR and instruct them on the use of AEDs until emergency services arrive.
  5. For delivery of samples to laboratories: Delivering samples to laboratories that are far away from the collection area is also vital to healthcare. Drones such as Vayu are now being used in parts of Madagascar to carry blood and stool samples for testing in the country’s central laboratory.
  6. To transport blood samples for HIV testing: In countries such as Malawi, one in 10 people is HIV-positive. However, the entire country has only eight laboratories equipped for HIV testing. In the past, reliance has been mostly on motorcycle drivers to deliver samples to the testing facilities, thus increasing the turnaround time in getting results. The use of drones in carrying these samples means the elimination of road travel, leading to faster results.
  7. To transfer blood for transfusion: In October 2016, a San Francisco-based start-up called Zipline opened its first operational site in Rwanda. According to the company’s website, it serves 21 Rwandan hospitals and provides access to lifesaving blood products for eight million Rwandans. Zipline promises to airdrop blood products in less than 15 minutes, a feat that once took hours through road transportation.
  8. To transport humans: According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as of June 2017, 117,660 people need a lifesaving organ transplant and every ten minutes someone is added to the transplant list. EHang and with Lung Biotechnology PBC have agreed to work together to create what they call the Manufactured Organ Transport Helicopter (MOTH) system, which stands to revolutionize the way organs are transported in the U.S. Once in operation, this system will help save tens of thousands of lives by performing on-time delivery of organs to people in need.
  9. As Healthcare Integrated Rescue Operations (HiRO): In areas hit by natural disasters, these types of drones can help deliver medications and lifesaving supplies to areas inaccessible by roads.
  10. To deliver anti-venom for snakebites: The small unmanned vehicles might also be used for the transport of expensive and rarely used drugs, such as anti-venom for snake bites.

It would not be an exaggeration to state that the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in healthcare holds great promise and will probably champion a future with cheaper and faster healthcare. Though this article states only 10 ways drones could change healthcare, the possibilities are infinite, and only time will tell how successful we in converting them to reality.

Jagriti Misra

Photo: Flickr


On October 14, 2016, an 18-second video of what looks to be a model airplane buzzes overhead against a sky slowly turning to dusk. A small red box ejects out of the back and begins a descent by paper parachute before landing at the front steps of a building in Rwanda’s Muhanga District. California-based company Zipline had just made its first delivery of blood by drone to improve health in Rwanda.

That day marked the beginning of Rwanda’s national drone delivery program which, over the next three years, is anticipated to save thousands of lives and drastically improve health in Rwanda.

The endeavor is a partnership between Zipline, the Rwandan government, the United Parcel Service (UPS) and Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance. The ultimate goal is to improve the quality of health in Rwanda by delivering important medical supplies to remote locations quickly. This partnership currently maintains a fleet of 15 drones, referred to as “Zips,” that are all designed, manufactured, operated and launched by the company itself. Zips have the capability to fly round trips of up to 150 km while carrying 1.5 kg of blood — despite windy and rainy weather conditions. Orders are placed by text messages. They are then received by the distribution center and sent out to be delivered via Zips launched from slingshot-style catapults. When the delivery is complete, the Zips simply return to their original locations without having to land at the drop site.

Chief Executive Officer Keller Rinaudo touts the company as a solution to the last-mile problem, which is when supplies are unable to be delivered from the city to more remote and rural locations. The reasons for the last-mile problem vary, but they usually involve a lack of adequate transportation for the rural poor. In addition, washed-out roads or difficult terrain like hills and valleys make it difficult to construct reliable roadways. Improving health in Rwanda has been slow due to these factors. In the medical field, the failure to connect a supplier to the end-users can be fatal.

In a November 2016 interview with Code Mobile, Rinaudo said, “When you need blood, you really need it. Your life is on the line and minutes are the difference between life and death. The challenge with blood is that it expires quickly. You have all different types, you don’t know what you’re going to need before you actually have a patient dying. What was happening was that…they have a patient that is dying, the doctor gets into a car, drives to a blood bank and drives four hours back. Obviously at that point usually the patient is either stable or dead.”

Approximately half of the blood that is currently delivered by road ends up being used for transfusions to women giving birth. When blood can be delivered quickly, doctors have access to more life-saving options for their emergency patients. In one case, a Zip only took five minutes to deliver a package of blood over a span of 33 miles.

For the beginning of the 2017 year, the plan is to expand Zipline into the Eastern half of Rwanda. This will keep their staff of skilled engineers, who have previously worked at organizations like Space X, NASA, Lockheed Martin and Google, incredibly busy. Justin Hamilton, the official spokesman for the company, described the future ambitions of the company: “There is a palpable sense of the promise this technology holds to save lives in the communities we serve. We look forward to expanding our efforts to serve the eastern half of Rwanda this year before expanding across Africa and the world.”

For Zipline, health in Rwanda is something that can be addressed with a talented staff and just a few catapults.

Tammy Hineline

Photo: Flickr

Drones for Refugees: Saving Lives in the Mediterranean
Since 2014, 10 people have died every day attempting to travel to Mediterranean countries by sea. The Drones for Refugees project wants to make the voyage safer.

The drones livestream areas heavily trafficked by refugees in the Mediterranean Sea and use infrared sensors to allow easy viewing at night. The drones run on solar batteries and use wireless internet connection, requiring little human involvement. Workers in ground stations monitor the footage on a computer or mobile device and collect information such as the number of people on a boat, the coordinates, whether the route is correct and whether there are enough life vests. In the case of an emergency, monitors quickly alert rescue crews. Newer drone prototypes carry an emergency aid package that can be released when needed. This quick response can save many lives.

The prototype was tested in Lesbos between July and August 2016. A more advanced version will debut in Sicily in the spring of 2017. Drones for Refugees is currently self-funded, but with help from investors and donors, the organization hopes to produce larger drones capable of traveling longer distances.

Project director Mehdi Salehi originally co-founded Good Drones, an innovation and design lab focused on using drones to solve social problems. Drones for Refugees is only one of the projects of the Good Drones initiative. Salehi was inspired by news footage of Syrian refugees traveling on worn-down boats in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, as well as his own personal experiences.

In 2001, Salehi was an Afghani refugee. He and a friend traveled to Greece on a small boat. Once he arrived in Greece, Salehi was imprisoned for five months. Eventually, with the help of a Greek lawyer, he was able to receive political asylum. He went on to graduate from the University of Volos and moved to New York to attend Parson School of Design. He says about his experience, “I was very lucky. I got a lot of support from people that met me along the way, especially in Greece. They encouraged me and believed in me. Refugees and migrants, that’s what we need: an opportunity to thrive.”

For refugees, crossing the Mediterranean can be an exhausting and terrifying experience. Drones for Refugees wants to ensure that refugees are given a fighting chance to escape the violence and oppression in their home countries.

Karla Umanzor

Photo: Flickr

Drones for Healthcare
The Rwandan government’s recent initiative to use drones for health care, delivering critical blood parcels on parachutes outside remote health centers, is a huge step forward in the use of this pioneering technology in crisis-hit areas.

As part of the program, which was kicked off last week, medical workers in health centers across the western parts of the country where the terrain makes road trips long and complicated, send requests for life-saving blood using text messages.

Using commercial drones, these packets containing the required blood are then delivered to 21 transfusing facilities in about 30 minutes, shaving off hours it would have taken using the traditional road routes. This is one more successful effort by the government to decrease the rate of maternal mortality, which stands today at 320 deaths per 100,000 live births. One of the main causes of maternal mortality is the loss of blood during and following childbirth.

While the Rwandan government is the primary driver of this program, the drones and delivery service are built and being operated by Zipline, a California-based robotics company. Rwanda’s successful experiment can be extended to many other areas of critical-care as well as outside that country.

While the current drone delivery service is focusing on blood deliveries, an international partnership between logistics giant UPS, the Vaccine Alliance, Gavi (a public-private group started by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) and Zipline are working on doing the same with vaccines.

It is easy to see how this breakthrough service can be extended to other parts of the developing world where access to lifesaving and critical health products suffers from what is termed the “last-mile problem,” which is the failure to extend medicines to remote locations which suffer from poor roads and transportation infrastructure. The set of drones, called Zips, being used in Rwanda can fly up to 150 kilometers, which should be enough in most cases to address the problem of reaching remote areas rapidly in emergencies.

Considering the situation in battle-scarred areas like Syria or Iraq, where both the terrain and the constant fighting turn civilian areas into no-fly zones, drones may well be the only solution to supply medicines, food and water to under-siege populations. Initial efforts to do that have already begun and are showing results.

Since last year, Uplift Aeronautics and the Syria Airlift Project have been flying prototype drones over the border from neighboring country on missions chosen by aid partners such as People Demand Change. Given their small size, each of these drones can carry only a few pounds of supplies which ensure they can’t be tracked by radars.

While this initiative has since been suspended for various reasons, the Rwandan government’s example shows that using drones for health care could eventually become a stable solution; providing life-saving drugs and equipment to those parts of the world where nature and man are cut off from the rest of the world is critical.

Mallika Khanna

Photo: Flickr

Drone Use
While domestic drone use was nothing but a hobby a few years ago, it has now developed into a life-saving technology. Drones have become bigger and stronger as the technology has developed, capable of delivery services now, as seen with Amazon’s Prime Air. Most recently, drones have started delivering medical supplies.

Zipline International, a robotics company based in Silicon Valley, partnered with Rwanda’s government and commenced flying medicine to people. Drone use is especially useful in naturally isolated areas without accessible infrastructure as finding emergency health care can be impossible. However, the Zipline drones can reach those places with no problem.

Weighing 22 pounds, the drones can carry three pounds of medicine and fly 75 miles on a single charge. The company claims they can deliver the medicine in under 30 minutes, eliminating the need for refrigeration or insulation and readily helping those in emergency situations.

In underdeveloped nations like Rwanda, drone use may become one of the most important humanitarian tools, delivering essential medicine to isolated locations where malaria, AIDS and other diseases are still rampant. In the U.S., Zipline also plans to operate in remote communities in Nevada, Maryland and Washington. They are set to begin test runs with support from the White House.

Field Innovation Team, a disaster preparedness nonprofit, recently completed a successful test run in New Jersey, delivering medical supplies to a rural health clinic. The organization views drone use as vital to responding to natural disaster situations.

In past situations, like Hurricane Sandy and Typhoon Haiyan, drones delivered supplies to stranded communities and survivors. Drones may be essential in emergency aid situations. According to the African Development Bank this can be especially helpful in rural Africa, where only 34% of communities have road access.

Another area for drones to enter is food delivery. In impoverished nations, many go hungry, even without natural disasters. With the continued development of drones and proper regulation, the hundreds of millions of malnourished people may find another way to receive necessary aid on a more consistent basis.

Drones could deliver more than food — tools and seeds to aid in agricultural needs could be delivered, and even the internet could be provided. Facebook has plans to launch high-altitude drones that connect people in smaller cities or the outskirts of urban areas to the internet.

In places where hospitals and doctors are scarce, transportation infrastructure is nonexistent and where poverty is rampant, drone use can become the solution to both temporary and long-term problems. They can help in natural disasters, in pandemics and perennially underserved communities.

Henry Gao

Photo: Flickr

Facebook's internet drone
On June 28, Mark Zuckerberg and other members of Facebook’s executive team observed their newest piece of technology, a solar-powered drone, successfully complete its first flight. According to Yael Maguire, head of Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, Facebook’s internet drone will use lasers to beam a signal to towers and dishes that will bring Wi-Fi to people within a 50-km radius.

The new drone is part of the company’s Connectivity Lab, which is focused on the development of innovative technology. It is one of many projects that make up Facebook’s Internet.org campaign. The campaign’s goal is to deliver “internet access and the benefits of connectivity to the two-thirds of the world that doesn’t have them.”

Many have criticized Zuckerberg’s mission because only certain parts of the Internet will be available to those in need. According to an article published by The Guardian, “Facebook, Wikipedia, weather, job listings and government info” will be the only websites accessible through Internet.org.

While this may seem limited, Facebook does not intend to dominate the market. In the future, the company aims to release all information about their drones and other technology so that both the public and private sectors will have the ability to bring the Internet to every corner of the Earth.

Aquila, the name of Facebook’s internet drone, took a little over a year to build. The prototype, which has a larger wingspan than a Boeing 737 but weighs only 880 pounds, is planned to eventually stay airborne for 90-day intervals at a top altitude of 90,000 feet.

Zuckerberg believes that a fleet of drones is the best option for connectivity because they will not be as expensive as building a grounded cellular infrastructure and they deliver a more powerful signal than satellites. Jay Parikh, Facebook’s Vice President of Global Engineering and Infrastructure, announced last year that their team in California developed and tested a laser that delivers data “10x faster than the previous state-of-the-art in the industry.”

While Facebook’s internet drone is years away from becoming fully operational, Facebook has already accomplished incredible scientific and engineering feats. The future is beginning to look bright for worldwide Internet access, as Facebook is just the latest of many companies and organizations attempting to make this vision a reality.

Mark Zuckerberg has long believed that the ability to access the Internet is as much a basic human right as water, food and shelter. Internet.org aims to help impoverished farmers, children and families through the connectivity and power that comes with the Internet. And thankfully, Aquila’s first flight proves that digitally uniting the globe is not out of humanity’s reach.

Liam Travers

Photo: Flickr