Facebook is reportedly in talks to purchase Titan Aerospace, a manufacturer of solar-powered drones, with the aim of using them to beam internet connections to isolated communities in Africa.
The high-altitude drones can stay in the air for up to five years.
The social networking company is one of the main backers of the internet.org project, which wants to connect large parts of the world that remain offline.
Michael Kende, chief economist at the non-governmental organisation Internet Society, explained: “When you do it on the ground, there are significant expenses: you have to lay cables, you have to dig up the ground, you have to go into the city. So going into the air is an obvious solution. It’s much cheaper and it can cover quite a wide variety of people.”
Connecting the world to the internet is a long-stated goal of Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, who said: “Two thirds of the world actually have no access to or can’t afford or don’t understand why they would want to spend the income they have on getting access to that. The trick to that isn’t making cheaper cell phones, although that’s very important too, it’s making the network costs lower.”
The idea is not new: Facebook’s strategy is similar to Google’s Project Loon, which uses weather balloons to provide internet access to remote areas. With tests launched a year ago, Loon represents the first step in what is become a global race to spread internet access through the skies.
“Those companies have a lot of money, they are looking at very innovative ways to give access to people, and it has to be put within a good governance structure though, because we don’t want… you know, Facebook is a great service, but we don’t want people to think that the internet is just Facebook or just Google. There are a lot of other things that they can do, but it’s clearly a great step,” said Michael Kende of Internet Society.
Providing internet access to each and every one on the planet is not an entirely selfless goal as it represents a market potential of five billion extra customers.
- Vatican digitises history
The Vatican Library has begun a project to digitise thousands of historical manuscripts dating from the origins of the Church to the 20th century.
The library holds one of the most important collections of historical documents in the world.
Technicians from the Japanese company NTT Data are working alongside Vatican librarians on the project, which is scheduled to take four years.
‘‘The scanning will be carried out by NTT Data personnel working inside the Vatican Library. The manuscripts will never be removed, they’ll remain at all times inside the Vatican Library,” explained Patrizio Mapelli, President and CEO of NTT Data in the EMEA region.
After being scanned and digitised, the manuscripts will be released on the Library’s website as high-definition image data.
‘‘With the 3,000 manuscripts from the first stage of our cooperation with NTT Data, in four years’ time we hope to have digitised 15,000 manuscripts out of a total of 82,000. This will be a great way to preserve and spread knowledge and culture that is part of our global heritage,” said Monsignor Cesare Pasini, Prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library.
The Vatican Library has been collecting manuscripts since it was founded in 1448, the oldest of which were handwritten in the second century. Other pieces of value include illustrated manuscripts as well as copies of the Bible and the Koran.