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Send in the Drones: Facebook's Plans to Beam Internet to the World

It's Facebook's new pie-in-the-sky idea for connecting the entire planet.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday revealed more of his grand vision to deliver Internet connectivity to the entire planet. Spoiler alert: It involves more than running a bunch of big wires underground.

The company showed off the Connectivity Lab at Facebook, a project in which it is building new types of technology to beam wireless online access to the rest of the developing world. That includes — but isn’t limited to — things like drones, satellites and lasers, according to Zuckerberg.

It’s all part of Zuckerberg’s personally spearheaded project, the young CEO’s plan to cover the entire world in Wi-Fi and build new Internet economies in developing countries where there were none before. Last year, Zuckerberg announced the project in conjunction with major partners like Ericsson, Nokia, Qualcomm and Samsung, and positioned it as a long-term, semi-altruistic mission.

This sounds a little nuts coming from a company whose bread and butter derives from delivering ads in between your baby pics. But Facebook has brought on talent from the aerospace and communications tech fields, “including from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and Ames Research Center,” Zuckerberg said.

Facebook also partially acquired employees from Ascenta, a United Kingdom-based company that has previously worked on “the world’s longest-flying solar-powered unmanned aircraft.”

Facebook is hardly alone in its efforts to beam the Internet to billions more people. Last year, Google debuted Project Loon, a plan to blanket the world in Wi-Fi signals via balloons floating over countries all across the Earth.

As it currently stands, the Connectivity Lab is home to 50 Facebook employees, led by Dr. Yael Maguire, formerly of MIT’s Media Lab. The team also has former members of NASA’s JPL, as well as the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.

The new group operates independently of much of the rest of the company, and will report to Jay Parikh, who was recently promoted to Facebook’s global head of engineering.

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