Facebook and Google appear to be in a race to develop large solar drones that can deliver high-speed mobile connectivity from the stratosphere.
Facebook is currently hunting for talent to help it build solar drones in the UK. The social media giant, you'll recall, bought British solar drone specialist in March. (See Facebook Buys British Drone Specialist.)
Facebook is now advertising for engineers and more talent to help it with the drone project. Positions available include Lead Aerospace Mechanical Technician, which appears to be a key role from the job ad:
- Facebook is looking for someone to lead the Airframe assembly efforts during the development phases of its high-altitude solar powered aircraft. A successful candidate will be able to lead all efforts around airframe assembly and integration.
Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) is undertaking similar efforts in the US, staffing up its Titan Aerospace solar drone operations in New Mexico. Light Reading reported in September that the search giant is working with the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) to try and secure a commercial license to test these solar drones in American airspace. (See Google Working With FAA on US Drone License.)
These solar drones are quite different in intent from the hobbyist helicopters and military drones that take to the air today. They are intended to be massive, self-sufficient communications platforms that can stay in the air for years at a time, thanks to the power of the sun.
Where these initial development efforts take place could be key to how quickly these solar behemoths take to the sky. Congress has tasked the FAA with outlining a plan for the commercial use of drones in US skies by September 15, 2015. The agency, however, has made it clear that it will take a phased approach to unmanned aircraft, and has been seen by some in the aviation community as dragging its heels on this matter.
There are some signs, though, that this is starting to change: On September 25, the agency revealed that it "has granted regulatory exemptions to six aerial photo and video production companies, the first step to allowing the film and television industry the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the National Airspace System."
In total, the FAA is currently considering 40 requests for exemptions from other commercial entities, an agency spokeswoman said last week.
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading