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April 20, 2017

Facebook’s latest internet-beaming drone is a tiny tethered helicopter

by John_A

Facebook wants the entire world to have internet. And as part of that quest, it has developed a small helicopter drone.

Here’s the thing: the more people there are with internet, the more people it can get to sign up for Facebook. Naturally, Facebook wants to pipe internet everywhere. So far, it has come up with an internet-beaming drone plan, and its latest drone looks a tiny helicopter.

Facebook quickly introduced it at its F8 developer conference in San Jose, California. Called the Tether-tenna, it is meant to not only deliver internet, but also help out those in disaster situations. It is tethered to a fiber optic cable that connects to a land-line internet connection, and it essentially sends internet out over radio waves to people who need internet access during a disaster.

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Currently, the Tether-tenna is in its research phase. But it’s easy to see that Facebook is using it as a signal booster sort of like a Wi-Fi range extender, only instead of blanketing your home with internet, it’ll beam it to those who need it in developing nations. In a blog post, Facebook said it could help a “local community can stay connected while the in-ground connectivity is under repair.”

So, if an earthquake or tsunami or landslide takes out the internet, whether across the world or even here in the UK, these helicopters could be deployed to save the day. Well, it’ll help people to get online so they can check in on Facebook at least. Facebook said the system has been tested for up to 24 hours of continuous operation, but it hasn’t yet been deployed in an emergency.

There’s lots of challenges the company has to work out still, Facebook explained, including enabling it to survive through very high winds and avoid things like lightning. Nevertheless, Tether-tenna could be “just a few years out” from deployment.

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