Facebook building drones and lasers with Connectivity Lab

The social network is inventing new technologies in house to deliver affordable Internet access to all.

Jennifer Van Grove Former Senior Writer / News
Jennifer Van Grove covered the social beat for CNET. She loves Boo the dog, CrossFit, and eating vegan. Her jokes are often in poor taste, but her articles are not.
Jennifer Van Grove
2 min read

facebook drone

Facebook announced Thursday that it's working to troubleshoot the technical and financial obstacles to bringing the Internet to the rest of the world with a team that it's calling Facebook Connectivity Lab.

The lab, which is closely aligned with Facebook's Internet.org initiative, is building "drones, satellites, and lasers to deliver the internet to everyone," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post published to his social-network Timeline.

The Connectivity Lab team, tasked with inventing new technology to provide affordable Internet access for all, is an existing one that Facebook is just now deciding to talk openly about. The reveal coincides with the social network's decision to bring aboard five aerospace experts from the UK company Ascenta.

"Our team has many of the world's leading experts in aerospace and communications technology, including from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab and Ames Research Center," Zuckerberg said. "Today we are also bringing on key members of the team from Ascenta, a small UK-based company whose founders created early versions of Zephyr, which became the world's longest flying solar-powered unmanned aircraft. They will join our team working on connectivity aircraft."

Specifically, the Connectivity Lab team is working on something called free-space optical communication (FSO), which uses light to transmit data through space with infrared laser beams. In some suburban areas, Facebook will use long-endurance aircraft to port reliable Internet connections, and in lower density areas the company is testing low-Earth orbit satellites to beam Internet access to the ground.

It all sounds extremely futuristic, but given Zuckerberg's recent maneuvers, particularly the $2 billion buy of virtual reality company Oculus VR, one shouldn't be surprised that the Facebook chief is turning to far-out science to make fact out of fiction.

Update, 5:56 p.m. PT: Zuckerberg expounded more on the company's radical thinking and the science behind the Connectivity Lab's aerial Internet efforts in a paper published Friday. The paper gets into the meaty specifics on how Facebook will reach people in areas without access to 2G or 3G signals, and do so with tactics unique to a region's population density.