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Facebook Buys British Drone Specialist

In his latest effort to connect the world to the Internet, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has acquired a small British company that is developing solar-powered drones.

Facebook has bought Ascenta, a five-person outfit in the UK that, according to a blog posted by Zuckerberg, "created early versions of Zephyr, which became the world's longest flying solar-powered unmanned aircraft."

The Ascenta team is joining the Connectivity Lab, set up by Facebook to "build drones, satellites and lasers [free space optics] to deliver the internet to everyone." Those efforts will be fed into the work of Internet.Org, the partnership announced in August 2013 that aims to make the Internet accessible to the "two thirds of the world not yet connected." (See Internet.Org: Small Data Bites Into the Digital Divide?)

According to a Bloomberg report, Ascenta was acquired for less than $20 million.

Zuckerberg appears to be very interested in any technology that will help connect the world, and he has been linked to other drone companies. (See Flyin' Facebook: Now Zuckerberg Eyes Drones?)

Here's a video where Facebook's Yael Maguire lays out some of the concepts that the Connectivity Lab team is working on:

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), meanwhile, is exploring the potential of balloons as a way to provide Internet access in hard-to-reach areas. (See Broadband: It's All Hot Air for Google.)

Facebook isn't the only company interested in unmanned craft, of course, though Amazon wants to use the aircraft for different reasons. (See Amazon Wants Delivery Drones.)

— Ray Le Maistre, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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pcharles09 4/18/2014 | 11:09:02 PM
Re: Solar drones The concept is cool & sounds fun. But I think there's so many reasons why it's impractical. Most of them involve human intervention.
TaraSeals 4/3/2014 | 4:29:11 PM
Re: Solar drones It just reminds me of the Amazon tentative plan to deliver goods via airborne drone within 30 minutes of order. Now seriously, who wouldn't love the Jetsons-like coolness of that happening in our world? But the devil as ever in is in the space-age details. It took about 2 seconds for someone to post a proof of concept for hacking them.

"SkyJack is a drone engineered to autonomously seek out, hack and wirelessly take over other drones within Wi-Fi distance, creating an army of zombie drones under your control," explained infamous hacker Samy Kamkar.

Errr...so my new Fire TV ends up God knows where? Or in the case of Facebook, my DATA?
mendyk 4/1/2014 | 8:40:50 AM
1 April If I didn't know better, I'd say this article was posted one day early.
pcharles09 3/31/2014 | 10:10:26 PM
Re: Solar drones Drones are the new "shiny object" in tech. Picking things up & dropping them off somewhere else seems very cool but not very practical in many places. That's the issue. I think the big guys are just doing it as a status symbol.
DOShea 3/31/2014 | 10:06:50 PM
Networking acquisitions? I suppose drones are on every zillionaire's must-have list these days, but I would really like to see Facebook explore networking acquisitions related to its Open Compute Project.
smkinoshita 3/31/2014 | 8:26:29 PM
Re: surprise @nasimson:  Personally, I think Facebook as a whole (as opposed to any single indivdual running the show, such as Zuckerburg) knows that it can't last forever as it currently stands and needs to expand so it can transform as needed.  I think it's still staying true to its core as far as connections are concerned, although I'm not terribly comfortable with the idea of Facebook drones.  I picture all-seeing, all-tagging eyes hovering around the world.
TaraSeals 3/31/2014 | 6:59:11 PM
Re: Solar drones Totally agreed-- and white spaces, other microwave options could be better! Plus I think drones have too many security issues to be honest. It does have the "cool tech" factor though.
DanJones 3/31/2014 | 6:01:29 PM
Re: Solar drones Lots of places that don't have fiber to connect cellsites and can't afford it either. We do need alternative solutions, not sure these are it though.
TaraSeals 3/31/2014 | 5:55:50 PM
Re: Solar drones Yikes! This is one that I would file under "finding a solution to a problem that doesn't exist."
Kruz 3/31/2014 | 4:25:57 PM
Re: surprise Fb will be owning the complete chain, from providing the Internet to providing services on top of it. This will even allow location based ads for a tailored offering. Facebook will definitely need to provide all the aspects of Internet in its done if not more as users are sophisticated, and will need to use services along fb.
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