Who is closest to flying: Facebook, Google, or Amazon?

The three Internet giants have identified the next impossible dream: providing drone delivery and Internet access by drones and balloons.

AP Photo/Amazon/File
This undated image provided by Amazon.com shows the so-called Prime Air unmanned aircraft project that Amazon is working on in its research and development labs.

Facebook and Google continue to vie for control of the skies.

Both companies are investing research and development time in building projects that would broaden Internet access and coverage for the 57 percent of the world's population that still is unable to get online.

For Facebook, that translates into a fleet of drones that would boost a signal between each craft using lasers that then transmit the signal back down to Earth. Facebook’s project is still in the early stages, according to Jay Parikh, Facebook's engineering chief, but the social networking giant is working toward putting a fleet of nimble drones aloft soon.

"It has not flown yet, that's the next milestone," Mr. Parikh told the BBC.

Google, by contrast, has made faster strides on its own plans to bring the Internet to the developing world.

Called “Project Loon,” and affiliated with Google’s semi-secret Google X research lab, it is “a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters,” according to the project’s website.

"We've flown almost 1,000 balloons at this point…. one of our balloons went around the world 19 times," Mike Cassidy, vice-president of Project Loon, told the BBC.

And in October, Google X announced that Project Loon will be bringing Internet access to Indonesia by next year.

“The Indonesian tests will form part of the foundation for our longer term goal of providing a continuous ring of connectivity in partnership with mobile network operators around the globe and, hopefully, bringing the power of the Internet to millions of individuals, wherever they are, for the very first time,” the Google X team wrote in a Google+ post.

But Google and Facebook aren't the only companies interested in having a stake in the skies. Amazon has begun testing its drone-delivery system, Prime Air.

In its 2014 petition to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Amazon wrote that, “We are rapidly experimenting and iterating on Prime Air inside our next generation research and development lab in Seattle…. One day, seeing Amazon Prime Air will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today.”

Wal-Mart also appears keen on entering the already-crowded corporate airspace. In late October, the retail giant filed for its own permit with the FAA, indicating that it, like Amazon, is also interested in testing drones for commercial delivery purposes.    

The technology surrounding drones and Internet access still appears to be tightly controlled by a handful of few companies, but Google and Facebook have said that they are collaborating on some of the key technologies that will make those dreams a reality.

“You shouldn’t presume that we’re not already working together,” Yael Maguire, who leads Facebook’s Connectivity Lab working on Internet access, said at MIT's Solve conference earlier this fall.

Rich DeVaul, who led Google’s balloon project when it first began in 2011, confirmed that statement. “I’m looking forward to collaborative possibilities as well as some friendly competition,” he added.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to  Who is closest to flying: Facebook, Google, or Amazon?
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/Technology/2015/1111/Who-is-closest-to-flying-Facebook-Google-or-Amazon
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe