Facebook has partnered with drone startup Everfly on an unusual plan to offer Internet access in the wake of natural disasters or other major crises. Tether-tenna, as it is dubbed, combines the Everyfly drone and Facebook’s antenna that connects people to the Internet. The prototype drone, unveiled by Facebook at its F8 developer conference, has a 14-foot wingspan and can stay aloft in the air for 24 hours. Once in the air, the antenna system can broadcast the Internet to thousands of people surrounding it.
Recode notes that, “since the drone-copter is tethered, the idea is that the drone can stay in the air for days or even weeks at a time, without ever having to come down.” Facebook Connectivity Lab head Yael Maguire reports that, despite its size, the drone “only weighs about the mass of a small car tire.”
Everfly, a small drone spinoff of San Francisco-based Otherlab, which “houses early stage hardware companies,” is headed by Mikell Taylor, who earlier in her career worked with Bluefin Robotics on autonomous underwater robots. Everyfly has also created a small disposable cardboard drone for a DARPA-funded project.
Facebook says its eventual goal is to “create a platform that could handle the rigors of long endurance flight based on Facebook’s requirements for our Tether-tenna concept.” Recode notes, however, that, “it’s still not clear exactly how Facebook plans to use its new helicopter drone,” wondering if it “will it be shipped in for emergencies” or if the drones will “already [be] stationed in disaster-prone areas.” Also unknown is whether Facebook and Everfly will work on other projects in the future.
Previously, Facebook developed Aquila, a solar-powered drone intended to beam Internet from the jet stream; the aircraft was badly damaged during a test flight. Another company working on tethered drones is the Massachusetts-based drone company CyPhy Works, which is developing a tethered Wi-Fi drone.