Facebook Connectivity Lab工程總監參與由Mashable主辦的2014 Social Good Summit時透露，他們準備打造的無人機具備太陽能供電能力，大小類似商業用的747機種，但重量會更輕。實驗室中的一架原型機的長度約等同於6～7台的Prius車種，但只有4個Prius輪胎的重量。
Facebook Connectivity Lab工程總監Yael Maguire在參與由Mashable主辦的2014 Social Good Summit時透露，他們準備打造的無人機將不是傳統概念上的小型飛機，而是體型類似商用747飛機大小，且可仰賴太陽能供電、可經年累月飛行的大型無人機。
Connectivity Lab 是 Faceboook 於今年3月發表的無人機實驗室，集結了航空、噴射機，與通訊專家，旨在打造可提供網路服務的無人機，以協助推動 Internet.org 的全球連網服務計畫。當時 Facebook 也宣布收購了英國專門開發以太陽能供電的無人機 Ascenta 開發團隊，以加速這項計畫。
Maguire 在與 Mashable 執行長 Pete Cashmore 對談時表示，為了讓這些無人機得以在天上停留數月或數年的時間，它們必須飛行在6萬～9萬英呎高的天上，一般的飛機並不會飛行得那麼高。除了緯度的限制外，此一無人機必須具備太陽能供電能力，大小類似商業用的747機種，但重量會更輕。實驗室中的一架原型機的長度約等同於6～7台的 Prius 車種，但只有4個 Prius 輪胎的重量。
由波音所打造的 747 飛機可用來載運乘客或貨物，其中，最常見的 747-400 民航機可根據空間配置載運 416～660 名乘客。
雖然目前仍面臨許多技術及法令的問題，但 Facebook 計畫在明年至少讓一架無人飛機升空測試。
Facebook drones the size of jumbo jets to soar 17 miles up
Facebook will create thousands of drones the size of jumbo jets which will fly 17 miles above the Earth to provide wireless internet access to the four billion people currently unable to get online.
The social network announced in March that it was in negotiations to buy drone maker Titan Aerospace, which was subsequently snapped-up by Google. Now it seems that the company is developing its own drones instead.
Today, only 2.7 billion people – just over one-third of the world's population – have access to the internet, according to Facebook. The social networking company is one of the main backers of the internet.org project which aims to connect the large parts of the world which remain offline.
Initially it was thought that Facebook would create around 11,000 smaller drones with the help of Titan Aerospace. But a senior engineer has now revealed that the company’s plan B is far more ambitious even than that.
"We're going to have to push the edge of solar technology, battery technology, composite technology," said Yael Maguire, the leader of Facebook's new Connectivity Lab, during a panel session at the Social Good Summit in New York this week. "There are a whole bunch of challenges."
To fly for months and years at a time the drones will need to rise above the weather, flying at between 60,000 and 90,000 feet – around 17 miles above the ground.
Flying this high will solve problems associated with weather, but could throw up new legislative ones. Above 60,000 feet there are essentially no regulations on aircraft – commercial airlines routinely fly at around half of that altitude. Rules regarding satellites will “play a very useful role”, said Maguire, but the company will also have to “help pave new ground”.
Regulations regarding human operators will also need to be adjusted if the company’s plans are to be a success. Currently one person must be in control of an aircraft at all times, but Facebook hopes to change legislation so that one person can control ten or even a hundred partially-automated aircraft.
"We can't have one person per plane if we want to figure out how to connect the world,” said Maguire.
The aircraft will be “roughly the size of a commercial aircraft, like a 747” said Maguire, but they will be far, far lighter. One prototype currently being worked on is about the length of seven cars, but weighs the same as just four car tyres.
The planes will be tested at some point next year, somewhere in the US, and the company hopes to have them working and in operation over developing countries within three to five years. It has already chosen 21 locations around the world where it would like to deploy them, in Latin America, Asia and Africa, and is looking for charities to run the equipment once it is manufactured.
Google is also working on similar technology to Facebook, having bought drone manufacturer Titan Aerospace earlier this year. The company creates solar-powered drones which can fly for several years at a time.
A Google spokesperson said at the time of the takeover: "It’s still early days, but atmospheric satellites could help bring internet access to millions of people, and help solve other problems, including disaster relief and environmental damage like deforestation. "
The search giant also launched Project Loon in 2013 which is investigating the use of high-altitude weather balloons which can transmit internet signals to the ground for the same purpose.
Solar Impulse 2: Solar-Powered Plane to Fly 25 Days Continuously Around Globe
The Swiss-made Solar Impulse 2 has 17,000 solar panels spread across a wingspan of 72m - four metres wider than a 747, which has a wingspan of 68m.
Pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, who are also co-founders of firm Solar Impulse, will take it in turn to fly the plane, which would become the first aircraft to fly day and night without fuel or emissions.
The flight, which will depart from Abu Dhabi in March 2015 and has attracted the support of Richard Branson, aims to complete 25 flying-days around the globe before finally descending and touching down four months and 35,000km later in Abu Dhabi in July.
The single-seater airplane will fly over the Arabian Sea, India, Myanmar, China, the Pacific Ocean, the United States, the Atlantic Ocean and southern Europe or North Africa, it was announced on Thursday in New York.
Flights over the vast oceans of the Pacific and Atlantic will last five to six days, achieved by Solar Impulse 2's usage of solar power.
Piccard and Borschberg will have access to six oxygen bottles, a parachute, a life raft and food and water rations.