Facebook’s Internet Drone Takes Flight

The drone project was developed by Facebook’s Connectivity Lab. For 96-minutes last month, the company flew a 140-foot wide unmanned drone over Yuma, Arizona. It was the first successful test flight of Facebook’s full-scale Aquila drone. It is designing the boomerang-shaped aircraft to beam-connectivity down to billions of people who don’t currently have access to the internet.





Eventually, Facebook (FB, Tech30) hopes entire fleets of the carbon-fiber drones will fly for up to 90-days at a time in the stratosphere, between 60,000 and 90,000 feet. (The test flight only went up to 2,150 feet above sea level.) The drones will be solar powered and use lasers to deliver internet connections receivers on the ground, up to 30 miles in any direction. The connections will be fast, with speeds up to tens of thousands of gigabytes per second.

The test also collected data on Aquila’s aerodynamic performance at low altitude, its battery and power usage, and the effectiveness of the autopilot system. Like other autonomous drones, Aquila can be remotely commanded to fly by GPS waypoints, but all of the actual flying is done by the autopilot without direct human control. And this flight was the first opportunity to test the performance of the autopilot on a full-sized drone under real-world atmospheric conditions.


The goal of Aquila is to provide what has been described as an “atmospheric satellite” capability—the drones will fly for up to three months at a time, orbiting over remote areas and providing connectivity for a circle as much as 60 miles in diameter, using a laser-based network “backbone” and radio signals for local bandwidth. Because of its lift-to-weight ratio, Aquila can fly as slowly as 25 miles per hour in level flight.




Yael Maguire, Facebook’s engineering director and head of its Connectivity Lab, said in an interview that the company initially hoped Aquila would fly for 30 minutes.

“We’re thrilled about what happened with our first flight,” Maguire said. “There are still a lot of technical challenges that need to be addressed for us to achieve the whole mission.” He said he hoped the system might be brought into service “in the near future.”

Zuckerberg laid out the company’s biggest challenges in flying a fleet of Aquilas, including making the plane lighter so it can fly for longer periods, getting it to fly at 60,000 feet and creating communications networks that allow it to rapidly transfer data and accurately beam down lasers to provide internet connections.

Among the biggest challenges facing the Aquila team is getting enough sunlight to continually recharge the drone’s batteries so it can stay aloft at night. That will be a challenge during winter months—while the drone’s motors will only require about 5,000 watts of power to stay aloft at high altitude, it will have to fully recharge batteries with as little as 10 hours a day of sunlight in the expected range for Aquila’s operation. And those batteries will have to be as light as possible to allow Aquila to perform its mission. “Given current and projected battery performance,” Cox and Gomez noted, “that means batteries will account for roughly half the mass of the airplane. We’re pushing the edge of high-energy-density batteries while exploring the best designs to ensure we have enough resilience in the system.”



Mark Zuckerberg and the Team-(from left): Hamid Hemmati, Andy Cox, and Yael Maguire. (via Wired)


Facebook also hinted that it will need to partner with organisations such as governments and operators in order for the project to be a success.



Quantum Processors for Single Photons

Scientists have realized a photon-photon logic gate via a deterministic interaction with a strongly coupled atom-resonator system.

A team of scientists from the Quantum Dynamics Division of Professor Gerhard Rempe has successfully realized a quantum logic gate where two light quanta play the key actors. Professor Gerhard Rempe is the director at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics. This attempt was highly challenging as photons do not typically interact at all but pass each other uninterrupted


Illustration of the processes that take place during the logic gate operation: The photons (blue) successively impinge on the right onto the partially transparent mirror of a resonator which contains a single rubidium atom (symbolized by a red sphere with yellow electron orbitals). The atom in the resonator plays the role of a mediator which imparts a deterministic interaction between the two photons. The diagram in the background represents the entire gate protocol. Credit: Graphic: Stephan Welte, MPQ, Quantum Dynamics Division

In the experiment presented here two independently polarized photons impinge, in quick succession, onto a resonator which is made of two high-reflectivity mirrors. Inside a single rubidium, an atom is trapped forming a strongly coupled system with the resonator. The resonator amplifies the light field of the impinging photon at the position of the atom enabling a direct atom-photon interaction. As a result, the atomic state gets manipulated by the photon just as it is being reflected from the mirror. This change is sensed by the second photon when it arrives at the mirror shortly thereafter.


After their reflection, both photons are stored in a 1.2-kilometre-long optical fiber for some microseconds. Meanwhile, the atomic state is measured. A rotation of the first photon’s polarization conditioned on the outcome of the measurement enables the back action of the second photon on the first one. “The two photons are never at the same place at the same time and thus they do not see each other directly. Nevertheless, we achieve a maximal interaction between them,” explains Bastian Hacker, a Ph.D. student at the experiment.

The scientists envision that the new photon-photon gate could pave the way towards all-optical quantum information processing. “The distribution of photons via an optical quantum network would allow linking any number of network nodes and thus enable the setup of a scalable optical quantum computer in which the photon-photon gate plays the role of a central processing unit (CPU),” explains Professor Gerhard Rempe.



via: ScienceDaily

AI Beats Tactical Experts in Combat Situations

The AI flight combat system dubbed ALPHA developed by a doctoral graduate of the University of Cincinnati was recently assessed by subject-matter expert and retired United States Air Force Colonel Gene Lee who holds extensive aerial combat experience as an instructor and Air Battle Manager with considerable fighter aircraft expertise in a high-fidelity air combat simulator.




“I was surprised at how aware and reactive it was,” Lee told UC Magazine. It seemed to be aware of my intentions and reacting instantly to my changes in flight and my missile deployment. It knew how to defeat the shot I was taking. It moved instantly between defensive and offensive actions as needed.”

“ALPHA would be an extremely easy AI to cooperate with and have as a teammate,” UC researcher Kelly Cohen explained. “ALPHA could continuously determine the optimal ways to perform tasks commanded by its manned wingman, as well as provide tactical and situational advice to the rest of its flight.”

The details of Col. Lee’s showdown were published in the University of Cincinnati Magazine and the ALPHA AI itself was developed by UC offshoot Psibernetix, Inc. as an autonomous wingman to a human pilot. After ALPHA shot down a range of other AI opponents, Col. Lee jumped into the simulator against a “mature” version of the ALPHA code last October. Lee, who has trained thousands of Air Force pilots and has been taking on AI opponents since the early 80s, was unable to score a single kill against ALPHA on multiple tries. In fact, he was shot down every time.

In the long term, teaming artificial intelligence with U.S. air capabilities will represent a revolutionary leap. Air combat as it is performed today by human pilots is a highly dynamic application of aerospace physics, skill, art, and intuition to maneuver a fighter aircraft and missiles against adversaries, all moving at very high speeds. After all, today’s fighters close in on each other at speeds in excess of 1,500 miles per hour while flying at altitudes above 40,000 feet. Microseconds matter and the cost for a mistake is very high.

Eventually, ALPHA aims to lessen the likelihood of mistakes since its operations already occur significantly faster than do those of other language-based consumer product programming. In fact, ALPHA can take in the entirety of sensor data, organize it, create a complete mapping of a combat scenario and make or change combat decisions for a flight of four fighter aircraft in less than a millisecond. Basically, the AI is so fast that it could consider and coordinate the best tactical plan and precise responses, within a dynamic environment, over 250 times faster than ALPHA’s human opponents could blink.


(via Engadget, ScienceDaily)