Attack of the Drones: The New High-Speed Internet Paradigm?
Every once in a while I run across an old article or news clipping that just strikes me as incredibly quaint. It might be something musing about automobiles and whether or not they're the future of transportation, or maybe talking about how big new improvements to television technology now allow people to purchase private sets for only a half-grand. These old articles interest me because I can smile smugly to myself and think, "If they only knew."
On rare occasions, though, I may also find a current article that does the opposite. The article usually holds some promise or speculation about the future, and regardless of whether it's wrong or right, I'm positive my own grandchildren will look at it with a familiar smugness.
Today I had that experience while reading an article about Facebook's Aquila project. The basic idea is to get a massive unmanned drone to fly ridiculously high up in the sky and beam internet access down like tree-friendly propaganda pamphlets, all while receiving its own internet from satellite lasers at speeds of tens of gigabits per second — no biggie.
The drones for this project have wingspans greater than that of a Boeing 747 and are designed to stay airborne for three months at a time. This isn't just conceptual, either; Facebook began testing their behemoths as of the end of July.
Perhaps even more strangely, Facebook is not the first to think of this. Yes, we all know about Amazon's adorable little quad copters that may or may not ever actually be legal, but that's not what I'm talking about. Google's "Project Loon" is very similar to Facebook's Aquila, except that the Big G's plan is to use balloons.
Also, unlike Facebook, which will be partnering with other ISPs to actually provide service, Google fully intends to provide the internet as well as the party decorations. On an interesting note, both Google and Facebook plan on using the 60,000 to 90,000 foot height range, meaning drone battles unlike anything I ever pictured while doodling.
But as all three companies are quickly finding out, commercial drones are new technology, and the law hasn't completely caught up to them yet. RC hobbyists are one thing, but how do you regulate drone usage for a business that makes millions of deliveries a day? Would the sky just become swarmed over?
And what about collisions? I'm going to assume that Amazon can avoid crashing its own drones into each other, but can they keep their drones from taking down hobbyists? And who decides fault in a mid-air collision? Right now, that's all up in the air.
Heh. Ahem ...
I don't know whether (or when) the skies are going to fill up with drones. They very well could (and it may happen soon). On the other hand, I hear we're making great strides in teleportation, so maybe our grandkids will all own teleporters and probably never even leave the house.
Or maybe we won't order stuff at all. Everything will be blueprints, and everybody can just zap out whatever items suit their fancy using the family 3D printer. No matter what, though, I have a feeling that our grandkids, or great-grandkids might stumble across these articles and, after a brief read-though, heave a less-than-forgiving sigh.
"Boy, if they only knew ... "