Four years after embarking on a project to bring internet access to remote locations through the use of internet-beaming drones, Facebook Inc. is giving up on designing its own aircraft.
Instead, the tech giant said Tuesday that it will work with aerospace manufacturer Airbus and other partners. As part of the decision to shut down its project, Facebook is also closing a facility in Bridgwater, England, where it was developing drones.
In a blog post, Facebook engineer Yael Maquire said other companies have been investing in the development of high-altitude aircraft and other technology necessary to beam internet access from airborne platforms.
“Given these developments, we’ve decided not to design or build our own aircraft any longer, and to close our facility in Bridgwater,” Maguire wrote.
Facebook launched its drone program in 2014 and developed a solar-powered drone called Aquila. The aircraft had a wingspan equal to that of a 737 and was designed to stay aloft for months at a time.
After Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg met Pope Francis in 2016, he said he presented the pontiff with a model of the Aquila.
But Aquila had just two test flights, according to Maguire’s post. One of those, its maiden flight in 2016, ended with part of its wing breaking off just before landing.
Facebook isn’t the only tech giant trying to beam internet access down from above. Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., has a similar project, known as Project Loon, that uses balloons. That effort is further along. Last year, Alphabet said it partnered with AT&T and T-Mobile to provide basic internet access through Loon balloons in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
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