Google and Ministry of Defence testing solar-powered drones

The world's skylines could soon be littered with high-altitude, autonomous, solar-powered drones after it was revealed that tech giant Google and the UK Ministry of Defence have acquired drones in efforts to boost communication methods.

As reported by the Guardian, Google has been testing drones to develop radio transmissions that could catalyse the next generation of 5G wireless internet access.

Through ‘Project Skybender’, Google has rented out a 15,000sq.ft hangar near a town called Truth or Consequences in New Mexico, where it will test a variety of drones including an “optionally piloted” aircraft called Centaur and solar-powered drones.

The drone testing forms part of Google’s vision to create thousands of high-altitude, self-flying aircrafts that can deliver internet access around the world.

Google’s ongoing trials of solar drones mirrors work being done by social networking behemoth Facebook, which last year unveiled Aquila – a solar-powered drone that will be able to circle the planet at 60,000 feet, beaming an internet connection to earth.

Ultimately, Facebook aims to have a fleet of drones circling the earth beaming wireless signals to the four billion people who currently don’t have internet access – an ambition closely aligned with the rising ‘Internet of Things‘ phenomenon. 

MoD drones

Meanwhile, in the UK, the Ministry of Defence is also exploring the use of solar-powered drones to act as reconnaissance and communication devices which can fly above jet streams and stay aloft for months without recharge.

In a recent speech to UK security group ADS, the Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon announced the Ministry’s intention to purchase two British-manufactured drones from Airbus Group.

The Zephyr drones are fitted with solar cells and lithium-sulphur batteries that enable the propellers to function at altitudes above disruptive weather patterns and fly uninterrupted for up to two weeks.

The use of internet-connected drones was conceptualised by online retailer Amazon back in 2013, with plans unveiled for drones to fly packages to consumers’ doorsteps within 30 minutes of ordering.

Matt Mace

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