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Facebook Wants Drones To Connect the Developing World

timothy posted about a year ago | from the enlightened-self-interest dept.

Facebook 48

judgecorp writes "Facebook is reportedly hoping to buy drone specialist Titan Aerospace in order to provide airborne relays for Internet connectivity in developing countries, as part of its internet.org project. The solar-powered drones are classified as "atmospheric satellites" and can fly for five years. The rumoured project sounds quite similar to Google's Project Loon, which proposes using balloons for the same job." More coverage at SlashCloud, which notes that the purchase is rumored but not yet publicly confirmed.

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Sniff, sniff... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46396385)

Is that the stink of desperation that I'm smelling?

Re:Sniff, sniff... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46396431)

I thought the same thing. Do they honestly think that people who live in third world shitholes without internet access:
A) Have a computer or tablet?
B) Have nothing better to do than "like" other starving neighbors' boring kid pictures?

Re:Sniff, sniff... (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about a year ago | (#46397411)

Props to B. But I have a solution based on this. Load drone with 200 lbs of pelleted vegetable seeds encased in dirt, in addition to your 25 lbs of communication equipment and a 25 lb electronic pellet release system. Whenever the batteries reach full capacity, use excess energy from the solar panels to release pellets. After a year or two, the starvation problem will take care of itself, and you still have three years + left of station keeping on the "atmospheric satellite" to sell the now more prosperous population internet access.

Re:Sniff, sniff... (1)

losfromla (1294594) | about a year ago | (#46398143)

water might be a bigger problem than seed delivery. Solve the, keep plants appropriately watered and competing seeds at bay and you might have something worth thinking about.

Re:Sniff, sniff... (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about a year ago | (#46398437)

Scatter enough seed, and you'll out-compete the weeds. Use appropriate (native) vegetables, and you'll have plants that are matched to the normal rainfall in the area. Scatter enough of them, and mere gathering can take care of the rest.

Of course, this takes interviewing the indigenous people in the area to find out what their favorite vegetables were *before* Monsanto came in to feed them western foods.

Re:Sniff, sniff... (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#46398851)

Scatter enough seed, and you'll out-compete the weeds. Use appropriate (native) vegetables, and you'll have plants that are matched to the normal rainfall in the area. Scatter enough of them, and mere gathering can take care of the rest.

I see you're truly a Marxist, even in the area of agriculture. Because naivety worked for Soviet agriculture so well...

Re:Sniff, sniff... (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about a year ago | (#46399429)

It's actually a combination of guerrilla gardening [guerrillagardening.org] and permaculture [organicgardening.com] and is based in actual experiments. It's also decentralized- you don't actually need drones to do the dropping, anybody can do this in their neighborhood, just by scattering seed.

The idea of using it in the third world is to avoid situations where local governments hoard the foreign aid- if the plants are native, widely scattered, and numerous enough to out-compete the weeds, you don't need fancy NGO programs for the harvest- the starving people will do it themselves.

Look at my tagline again and click on the link there to find out what kind of Marxist I am.

Re:Sniff, sniff... (1)

pushing-robot (1037830) | about a year ago | (#46396433)


No, that's the distinct odor of things-you'd-think-were-awesome-if-someone-else-was-doing-them.

This will be a no go for most developing countries (2)

coolmanxx (150620) | about a year ago | (#46396571)

Most developing countries have communications monopolies. ie. State Owned. One reason is control, the other reason is profit. In many African countries for example, VSATS have huge tariffs levied to discourage their use by local governments. These initiatives will not see wide use. Can you imagine FB trying to get away with this in Rural India or China? There would be war!

Re:This will be a no go for most developing countr (1)

Sepodati (746220) | about a year ago | (#46396727)

These would still have to downlink somewhere, probably into the same "state owned" network as everyone else. FB or whomever would, I'm sure, play along with whatever rules, so long as it meant people got airtime and they got money.

Re:This will be a no go for most developing countr (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | about a year ago | (#46398745)

Why? net traffic stays within the aloft net, uplink/downlink can either through the airborne net to a lower tariff location or via satellite (since only data in/out would be out of area traffic). Caching of popular data (youtube, buzzfeed, whatever) could be done at a ground station.

Not that high (1)

Sepodati (746220) | about a year ago | (#46402175)

According to this article, the coverage for these will be an 18-mile radius.

http://arstechnica.com/informa... [arstechnica.com]

While an air-to-air component could extend that with multiple drones, the whole system is still likely to link to a ground station within a small geographical area. That's why I don't think you'd get out of the "state owned" area, if these were ever employed in such a place.

A major point of these would be to eliminate the satellite link, so a further uplink to a satellite just seems ridiculous.

Re: This will be a no go for most developing count (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46397451)

I wonder if this is another Glomar Explorer: a joint CIA (or probably NSA/NRO) spy plane program disguised as a commercial venture. Invite Facebook in (everyone loves FB) and they fly drones over your country and provide some service equivalent to the circuses half of panem et circenses, no cost to the local govt; the five eyes get realtime elint and imagery, but no one needs to know about that.

ummm (1)

hypergreatthing (254983) | about a year ago | (#46396601)

Do you mean blimps or mini blimps not drones?
I have not heard of solar powered drones.

Re:ummm (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about a year ago | (#46396643)

They got a picture right in the article. Sure as hell looks like a plane to me. Granted an unnamed powered blimp would be a drone as well.

Re:ummm (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about a year ago | (#46397435)

I would like to know how they keep a plane on "stationkeeping" enough to serve as a GPS platform though. I'd think turbulence alone would mess that up, and doesn't a plane have to keep *some* airspeed to stay up?

Re:ummm (2)

Sepodati (746220) | about a year ago | (#46396697)

"drone" implies a level of autonomous or remote control, not necessarily the method it uses for flight.

These don't look to be blimps, btw. http://titanaerospace.com/plat... [titanaerospace.com]

"developing countries" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46396661)

What are they developing, poverty and malaria?

Re:"developing countries" (2)

Immerman (2627577) | about a year ago | (#46397511)

They're largely a century or two behind us in socio-economic development, especially in the rural areas. But they have the benefit of cheap modern technology, so you'd better believe they're developing FAR faster than we did.

Who is this aimed at? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46399347)

We are not a century or two behind. You must be American - noone else could possibly even believe that nonsense.

I live in a "third world" country, up in the Andes. We have plenty of internet. Or how do you think our smartphones and computers operate?

Those that don't are so poor that I have no clue who these drones are for. They'd be better off with flooring for their houses, and food. If they are poorer than me, then they don't even have the basics.

Also, I doubt whether my government, or people, will take to having a permenent foreign presence over our skies. Target practice for the airforce?

"Developing world" is a moving target (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about a year ago | (#46401123)

Hate to break it to you, but while some preconceptions still exist the data shows that South America largely exited the so-called "third world" stage some time ago - there's still problem areas, but for the most part you've pretty much caught up with the developed world by most measures. As a rule you're not yet as rich, but you've managed to harness most of the major benefits of modern technology. Asia and Africa are the remaining problem spots, and much of Asia is currently progressing quite rapidly.

It's important to remember that progress is *extremely* uneven in these places, varying wildly from country to country, and even more wildly between different regions within a country - take China for example: The major cities are among the most technologically advanced in the world, yet much of the population are still basically subsistence farmers without electricity, and who are lucky if their region even gets cell-phone coverage. Most of Africa is in far worse shape. Think of your country 50 years ago, and realize that many places still have a ways to go to catch up to that point.

For a rough estimate of technological penetration, I present this image of the Earth at night. Take a look at your region, and compare it to others. Especially Africa.
http://www.nasa.gov/sites/defa... [nasa.gov]

The developing world (1)

korbulon (2792438) | about a year ago | (#46396679)

Finally, decent internet in the East Bay!

typical proprietary hacks (1)

Trepidity (597) | about a year ago | (#46396739)

The solution is pretty clear: just implement RFC 1149 and RFC 2460 and connectivity will be fine in even remote areas.

Re:typical proprietary hacks (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about a year ago | (#46397489)

I think you mean RFC 2549, not RFC 2460.

A great idea, however... (1)

wjcofkc (964165) | about a year ago | (#46396757)

Are there enough people in the areas to be served with computers to connect in the first place? Also, since these internet drones would have to fly above storm clouds. I did not see in the article (admittedly scanned it) any mention of wireless protocol. I don't think WiFi would be terribly effective. Unless this is exclusively for business, who is going to pay for the adapters and who is going to support them when the do not install correctly or flake out in some other way. As a last hurdle, would the governments of the emerging countries be willing to let an American company deploy such a thing in the wake of the NSA revelations? I wouldn't.

Overwhelming, I would like to see these drones deployed en mass to the endless under served rural areas of America, and if they are doing WiFi, across the expansive cell phone dead space areas so I can at least have an internet connection on my phone while driving for hours across the half of Kansas that isn't populated and other similar areas. Entertain for a moment that Zuckerburg really does want to do this out of goodness of heart (unlikely, I know). I would much rather see him act out of patriotism and work towards creating a seamless blanket of internet connectivity that covers the absolute entirety of the United States of America that lacks connectivity (which is a lot). This goes for Project Loon too.

Re:A great idea, however... (1)

AndrewBuck (1120597) | about a year ago | (#46397051)

So you start by listing several technical reasons why this wouldn't work in a developing country and then go on to state that you would like to see this used in rural America (where you ignore the very same technical limitations you just listed). Does only Africa have storm clouds and trouble with bad wifi drivers? Do you really think the system won't work, or is that just a flimsy explanation to try to prevent 'them' from getting it so you can have it yourself?


Re:A great idea, however... (1)

wjcofkc (964165) | about a year ago | (#46397457)

You misunderstood much of where I was coming from. In reference to protocols, adapters and storm clouds, I am saying I do not know enough about how the networking technology works. In specific reference to flying at a high elevation, when I expressed doubt about WiFi(which may be wrong) I was suggesting that a limited run on special adapters for a possibly proprietary protocol would likely be overly expensive of emerging countries. Also, in the United States we have the money to by WiFi or whatever else adapters and when they cause us trouble we are in a better position to call support. I am not at all saying the system won't work, I'm saying it might not serve a worthwhile purpose depending on where you put it. And no, I would not want this for myself because with rare travel exceptions I do not need or I would't be posting this now, I want it to enhance my country. If that offends you, I have nothing to say.

Re:A great idea, however... (1)

AndrewBuck (1120597) | about a year ago | (#46398177)

Ok, that makes a bit more sense. I do understand your point about custom WIFI protocols but I don't think that those would actually be needed. If I recall correctly you can push wifi out to several km's fairly esily with the standard protocol and you don't start to have ack timeout issues until something like 100 km, and even then all you need to do is allow longer ack timeout values (this is technically a "custom" protocol then but not a major change).

You do have a point about people in the US being more able to afford such a thing but I don't think it is a huge issue. As much as I don't like the idea of facebook being the ones to do this, I don't see any obvious problems with the plan, other than the basic issues of how much the drones cost, what their lifetime and failure rate is, etc. On the face of it it could be a workable idea.

Sorry to be so irate in my initial response. The misunderstanding of your meaning led to a misunderstanding of your intentions and those intentions seemed pretty suspisious to me.


perhaps some clarification (1)

nimbius (983462) | about a year ago | (#46396855)

s/developing world/emerging market/ this is no different than a cattle farmer targeting a different breed of heiffer for the opportunity to market, say, wagyu beef. the challenge is what to market to someone who only makes 60 cents a day.

Re:perhaps some clarification (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year ago | (#46401727)

Everyone's got something of value, even if it's only their vote...

What could possibly go wrong???? (1)

bender183 (447302) | about a year ago | (#46396991)


Question: What's Needed Most in Africa? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46397097)

What does a guy living in squalor need? Oh yeah! Facebook! /sarcasm

Re:Question: What's Needed Most in Africa? (1)

queazocotal (915608) | about a year ago | (#46397393)

In most places, education is very non-free.
The cost of even a 'nice' tablet like a nexus 7, over a year will be completely eclipsed if it enables remote learning.

There is no developing world (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46397419)

There are only *parts* of countries that are not as developed as other parts. Source: http://www.gapminder.org/videos/the-river-of-myths/

Well, at least we know (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | about a year ago | (#46397555)

...they'll be very attractive drones. [slashdot.org]

solve the world problem (1)

beefoot (2250164) | about a year ago | (#46397627)

Mr Zuckerburg wants to solve the world problem such as famine, drought, poverty, disease, etc by giving them free facebook account. I sense someone is going to win the Nobel peace price.

Re:solve the world problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46399579)

It's possible he's deluded enough to actually think facebook can bring people out of poverty. But I think his real motive is growing facebook. The more countries that have internet, the more potential facebook users there are.

Internet boom (1)

Mister Liberty (769145) | about a year ago | (#46397679)

brought to you by the double edged sword of faceboom^Hk

huh (1)

Khashishi (775369) | about a year ago | (#46397833)

You think the likely corrupt governments of poor countries will sit idly by and allow a foreign agent to fly drones in their airspace? Particularly if the purported purpose of the drones is to enable seditious speech and organizing?

Clean water? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46398161)

Ha! Me want facebook. This way I can update my status as I lay dying from dysentery

In the future... (1)

Jawnn (445279) | about a year ago | (#46398301)

...all the Internets will be Facebook.
On the bright side, though, I can see battles a-brewing over providing even Facebook "enhanced" Internet to oppressed people from the air. Harder to cut that cable, ya know?

ARGH! (1)

duke_cheetah2003 (862933) | about a year ago | (#46398547)

Can Facebook go away already? Head the way of the Walkman... in to history and a humorous glance back at what it was, "Wow, did we really use that? Scary!"

Re:ARGH! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46398617)

What's scary about the Walkman?

Re:ARGH! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46398987)

Seriously!!! I use to love my walkman and it made perfect sense for the time period it was developed in. It was especially nice when the anti-skip features matured. I still keep a handful of CDs attached to my passenger visor. If I can't find something to listen to on the radio and out of those 7 or 8 CDs, I must not want to listen to anything.

I will say if I had a newer car with all the fancy features or even a newer radio instead of my 05' default, it would be of course easier to just dump all my music from my computer onto an mp3 player or even a thumb drive if they have usb connections on the radio (if not yet, next year).

Useless THIRD WORLDERS... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46398853)

There is no such thing as the (LOL) 'developing' world. What a joke. I think they mean THIRD WORLD countries, which are backwards countries which will NEVER become like European countries, due to the DNA of their inhabitants...

Why can't these 'equal' people build their OWN communications systems?

wtf? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46402417)

drones for facebook? I trust them less than I trust most governments.

Bagpipers approve of this +1 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46402585)

U2 guitarist David Evans, better known as "The Edge" and known for his "drone" guitar playing style stated today through a press release issued by his publicist that he is happy with the idea that drones could be used to connect the developing world and is willing to play his guitar as much as is needed.

When contacted, the spokesman for the local Bagpipe group appeared happy with the idea but because of his thick accent we weren't really sure what he was saying.

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