Google Is Testing Solar-Powered Drones To Supply 5G Internet From The Air

The Solara 50 is one of the aircraft being used in the tests. Google Titan

Google has reportedly been testing flying drones that could be capable of delivering high-speed Internet to the ground. The secretive Project SkyBender would see the solar-powered vehicles supply a 5G-equivalent connection for consumers.

The claims all stem from a report by The Guardian, which found that Google was testing solar-powered drones at Spaceport America in New Mexico. This spaceport is the one being used by Virgin Galactic for its tourism business.

Google has taken up residence at the spaceport, where it has been using its own control center to monitor an “optionally piloted” aircraft, a Centaur, which is a vehicle that can operate both with and without a human on board. 

The aircraft is using millimeter-wave technology to communicate, which has been touted as a way to deliver high-speed Internet, with speeds of several gigabits a second possible. This is 40 times faster than the technology used in 4G today. The only issue with millimeter-wave is that is fades quickly, something Google has been aiming to solve with these tests.

Google has its sights set on thousands of high-altitude autonomous drones being used to beam Internet to the ground. Indeed, alongside the Centaur aircraft the tech company has been flying a solar-powered drone called Solara 50, which could one day form the cornerstone of this service.

Google has permission to continue tests until July, and this isn’t the only ambitious Internet-delivery project it has on the go. It is also working on Project Loon, a series of high-altitude balloons that can beam a connection to the ground.

Both are in their very early stages at the moment, though, so of course there are no details on when, or if, either will become commercially available. But the developments will be interesting to keep an eye on, at any rate.

And this isn’t the only news coming out of Spaceport America. On February 19, Virgin Galactic are planning to unveil their new SpaceShipTwo vehicle that will take paying customers into space in the next few years, following the tragic disaster back in November 2014 that saw co-pilot Michael Alsbury lose his life.

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