Facebook has announced the end of plans to build drones that could give sustained and stable internet access to the developing world.

The ‘Aquila’ Internet Drone Project has been grounded, ending Facebook’s plans to build a network of high-altitude solar-powered drones in the skies that could have given sustained and stable internet access to the developing world. 

Facebook broke the news in a blog post earlier this week, saying that while the company was still committed to the original goal of bringing more people online, it would instead rely on other companies to build aircraft, and stop building its own from the projects base in the United Kingdom.

The now grounded Aquila drone in flight: The wingspan exceeds that of a Boeing 737…

Lofty Goals

Facebook had originally intended to construct an entire fleet of Aquila drones, and provide Internet access to some four billion people around the world who currently have no internet access, or limited connectivity. “No one has ever built an unmanned aeroplane that will fly for months at a time, so we need to tune every detail to get this right,” Zuckerberg said some years ago.  

The prototype Aquila drones that were built weighed around 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms) and had a longer wingspan than a Boeing 737. It’s estimated top speed at altitude was expected to be around 80 miles per hour. The Aquila drones would also have run on autopilot with manned ground crews to manage certain manoeuvres.

Fallen to Earth with a bump

However, technological difficulties, and mechanical issues had delayed and set the project back. Those, coupled with rising competition from the aerospace industry finally ended Facebook’s dream of connecting people on a global level. “When we started the Aquila program back in 2014,” the Facebook blog reads, “very few companies were involved in this area…it’s been exciting to see leading companies in the aerospace industry start investing in this technology too — including the design and construction of new high-altitude aircraft…Given these developments, we’ve decided not to design or build our own aircraft any longer.”

Google, or rather Google’s parent company, Alphabet, quietly confirmed that it had closed its own internet drone project, ‘Titan’, in early 2016 – a mere two years after it competed fiercely with and outbid Facebook to buy the business.