back to article Facebook quietly kills its Aquila autonomous internet drone program

Facebook has canned its plans to bring high-speed internet via a solar-powered drone beaming lasers to the ground, according to an announcement on Tuesday. The social media behemoth hellbent on ‘global connectivity’ wanted to launch a “high altitude platform station (HAPS) system," nicknamed Aquila, into the stratosphere. …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nominative determinism in action

    Many suspect that Loon will also join the list of projects that seemed like a good idea at the time but really weren't.

    More like the equally long list of projects that seemed like a bad idea at the time and really were. Naming it Loon suggests that somebody thought so, anyway.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Nominative determinism in action

      It's a popular strategy, it seems, with Faecebook and Google and their like to attempts a lot of projects and accept that most will fail but hope that there will be a couple that pay off. Seems to work for them

      It's still amazing to me that what is basically an echo chamber for narcissists and attention seekers has grown so huge. Amazing but not surprising.

      But nobody I know now is still using Faecebook, or if they are they are too ashamed to admit it.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Re: "nobody I know now is still using Faecebook"

        Given that there has not been a massive exodus and shutdown of FB accounts, I'll wager that the people you know that were using FB still are.

        Because FB still has that half billion accounts - even if 80% of that is cats, dogs, hamsters and assimilated.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Coat

          Re: "nobody I know now is still using Faecebook"

          I've heard from a number of acquaintances who've quit FB since the big shitstorm. They've already quit, but I didn't know until I saw them in person, since I'm not on FB myself.

    2. JDX Gold badge

      Re: Nominative determinism in action

      I'm assuming with your cutting analytical skills you've the £millions for such projects but are sensible enough not to waste them. After all, someone who knows better than multi-billion tech companies must be in high demand BY those companies or their competitors.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Nominative determinism in action

        No, JDX, I don't waste my money on obviously useless projects. Do you?

        Yes, Google and Facebook have both tried to get me on board for years, on and off. So have other similar high-profile companies. I laugh at the bumbling attempts of the blithering idiots who do their recruiting. There isn't enough money in the world to convince me to slum it with that kind of scum.

  2. jake Silver badge

    Obviously won't fly.

    Not unless you can name a government that would welcome such a service in their airspace that was completely out of their control.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Project Loon

    Project Loon has already proved its value in Puerto Rico. It isn't vapourware. Its usage may be restricted to large disaster areas but it worked with over 200 000 people connected at the peak.

    When I read "Facebook" and "autonomous internet drone programme" I initially assumed they were planning to follow users around from the air for even more creepy surveillance.

  4. Dan 55 Silver badge

    All eyes are now on Google and and its Loon pants...

    As I'm half asleep I misread a paragraph, and was rather disappointed when I re-read it.

    1. Teiwaz Silver badge

      Re: All eyes are now on Google and and its Loon pants...

      All eyes are now on Google and and its Loon pants...

      As I'm half asleep I misread a paragraph, and was rather disappointed when I re-read it.

      What with wearables and Google Glass, you may one day have you dream come true....

      I what form, I dunno. But am hoping for 'youtube trousers' with adverts that you can get paid for wearing around town.

      Getting paid to wear trousers...? Who could resist....You can get 'charged' for not wearing trousers after all....

      1. Giovani Tapini
        Coat

        Re: All eyes are now on Google and and its Loon pants...

        I think the "Loon Pants" mean something else in the UK, which brings a whole new dimension to wearables and the type of data they may collect, and indeed where cameras may be secreted...

  5. Milton

    Bad ideas which at the time looked like ... bad ideas

    Credas: " 'Many suspect that Loon will also join the list of projects that seemed like a good idea at the time but really weren't.'

    "More like the equally long list of projects that seemed like a bad idea at the time and really were."

    Jake: "Not unless you can name a government that would welcome such a service in their airspace that was completely out of their control"

    Per the first quote, there will be plenty of us utterly unsurprised by the failure of Facebook's idiot wheeze. Because it always was an idiot wheeze. Using heavier-than-air craft for a project like this was never going to succeed economically, and was at best a borderline engineering proposition, for reasons enumerated by knowledgeable folks even as Facebook's marketurds were busy blathering about cutting edge technology and brilliant innovation—as if technology can overcome either the laws of physics or the (albeit vaguer) ones of finance. The mention of hubris has it exactly right. The Age of Stupid does seem to include some nominally intelligent and even well-educated people who nonetheless lack the wisdom to appreciate that just because something might be technically feasible, and is "innovative" (a word rendered meaningless by those same marketurds) does not mean it's either practical, or worthwhile or actually any better than tried-and-tested alternatives. While some of these bright young things may be techies who really believe they are having new ideas (and know nothing of history), I suspect that many are actually management types who fall victim to the political vice of believing their own wishful crap and propaganda.

    As to the second issue, this is why we're never going to see a large network of airborne delivery drones around conurbations, and a drone scheme will always be limited to quite narrow, specific and unusual conditions where both range and property density are low, i.e. countryside/rural destinations within a few miles of a fulfilment centre. Even if government was stupid enough to permit large numbers of drones to fly over towns and cities, the whole thing will grind to a halt as soon as the first two or three people are killed or injured by falling copies of Sixty-Nine Shades of Hardback Crap. It is ridiculous to pretend that these autonomous vehicles will have safety and reliability levels similar to commercial airliners. With thousands in the air, there will be accidents.

    Returning to high-altitude internet for a moment, even lighter-than-air options will need to be carefully restricted, given that overland commercial supersonic travel is likely to resume. Altitudes up to 70,000 feet won't be available if there's any chance of a an SST inhaling any kind of Loon. That said, a Loon-esque system deployed regionally and for emergencies is at least a practical proposition.

    In sum, for all sorts of reasons the world urgently needs to move on from the Age of Stupid Hubris to the Age of Reflective Wisdom. I ain't holding my breath.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Bad ideas which at the time looked like ... bad ideas

      Future SSTs are not very likely. Overland even less. They are simply not economic enough for commercial service and I doubt any sort of boom mitigation is going to be enough to appease most of us ground dwellers enough.

      As NASA has proven in the past, these large flying wing designs might indeed work very well as a sort of "low altitude satellite". As the end of the NASA projects showed however, the problem with these crafts is getting them on and off station. Anything except ideal conditions is going to cause difficulty for a craft of this span, aspect ratio and slenderness. Facebooks crash of it's first drone goes to prove the same point. The advantage of a lighter than air craft is that is allows for longer on station time without power draw, and thus makes it more likely it's possible to stay on station for a little longer if weather conditions at the landing site are unfavourable. If weather IS unfavourable however, they are probably more difficult to land than a heavier-than-air craft

  6. }{amis}{
    Unhappy

    The Team

    I wonder who is going to acquire the team that did this, both Quintec and Airbus are currently working on similar projects in the UK and ill be amazed if they haven't been sniffing around for weeks already.

    I wish the peeps involved luck as FB or not its some badass work!

    1. steelpillow Silver badge

      Re: The Team

      They were an independent startup that Facebook acquired a few years back. Perhaps they can now regain that independence, though finance will surely be the main hurdle.

  7. Hollerithevo Silver badge

    A bit of a shame

    Only because I thought it an elegant aircraft.

  8. The C Man

    For what it's worth and if anybody from FaceBook and Google ever read the Register, it would be a lot more cost effective to add the equipment to commercial airlines which almost always have aircraft in the air covering most of world.

  9. The C Man

    Use commercial flights instead.

    It would make sense to add the equipment to commercial aircraft which cover most of the planet most of the time rather than wasting money on trying to create something that might only be an expensive dream.

    If FaceBook or Google go with my suggestion they owe me.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Use commercial flights instead.

      Commercial aircraft don't cover a lot of surface area. They generally stay in rather narrow corridors when at altitude.

      1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

        Re: Use commercial flights instead.

        Commercial aircraft don't cover a lot of surface area.

        Indeed. Take a look at Flight Radar 24 http://www.flightradar24.com/.

        That shows that using commercial air transport planes as radio relay points won't add anything useful.

        Daytime tracking shows they'd give good coverage over Europe, the band from the Middle East through India, SE Asia and up to Japan, and across the continental USA, but that area is already well provided with internet and other comms connectivity.

        On the other hand, much of Africa, Northern Canada, and South America, which is where cheap connectivity would help a lot, are rather short of commercial overflights. The same applies to both polar regions, the island chains in Pacific and Indian oceans and to the few islands in the South Atlantic.

        So, nice idea but not gonna fly.

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