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Facebook to Enter Drone Development Race

By Daniel James – Mar 6, 2014 at 7:00PM

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Following Google and Amazon's efforts to develop drone technology for commercial purposes, Facebook has now proposed a plan to bring Internet to the third world.

The battle over the development of unmanned aerial vehicles for commercial use is starting to heat up, with various tech companies indicating a desire to pursue this avenue of exploration. After Amazon (AMZN 3.10%) made clear its intentions to develop a network of drone deliveries, Facebook (META 2.33%) has now, too, entered the fray, albeit with a different purpose. Rather than using drones for deliveries, the social media giant intends to use the technology to bring Internet to impoverished areas. Google (GOOGL 0.36%) seems to be focused on using unmanned technology for the development of a driverless car. Let's have a closer look at what these Internet titans are planning to use drones for, specifically.

Special delivery
The first major Internet company that made waves with the idea of a drone delivery network was Amazon. Announced in a "60 Minutes" interview toward the end of last year, the company stated it was planning to roll out a drone delivery system that would have packages at your door within 30 minutes. The service is to be called Prime Air, and according to management, could be operational with four or five years.


However, a number of hurdles exist before the service can go airborne. First of all, there are a great deal of regulatory problems that have to be sorted out with the FAA regarding the safety of drone deliveries, as consumers probably don't want packages, even those under the stated limit of five pounds, dropped on their heads.

Many are skeptical about Amazon's apparent robotic ambitions. Chris Anderson, drone entrepreneur, has stated that the planned drone delivery system will run into a host of problems, aside from regulatory hurdles. From a common sense point of view, drones flying over heavily populated residential areas could prove to be very dangerous indeed, as eight whirling helicopter blades could do a lot of damage to people and property.

Google and Facebook's plans
Google has been working on unmanned technology for some time now, many speculating that it may have something to do with the company's plans to develop a driverless car. Google has gone on something of a robotic acquisition spree lately, with eight of its twelve acquisitions in the last twelve months having something to do with robotics.

Of course, this is all part of Google's super-secret Google X division. Presumably as an answer to Amazon's plans, the company has also been experimenting with a same-day delivery service of its own, which is, in the long term, also expected to employ unmanned technology.

Facebook, for its part, is also jumping on the drone bandwagon, albeit for a very different purpose. In a seemingly altruistic move, the company is planning to use drones to bring Internet to the third world.

To this end, it recently announced the $60 million purchase of Titan Aerospace. While this is a trifling amount compared to the $19 billion Zuckerberg shelled out for WhatsApp, it is, if nothing else, a statement of intent. Tital Aerospace makes solar-powered drones that can reportedly stay airborne for up to five years, and which are able to take over many functions of a satellite at a fraction of the cost .

Facebook has been a major backer of the project, which aims to bring inexpensive Internet access to the approximately five billion people worldwide who are not yet connected to the World Wide Web. Of course, this would also handily allow these people to access Facebook. Planning to start off with blanketing Africa, Facebook will reportedly build some 11,000 "Solara 60" model UAV's. 

The bottom line
It is becoming increasingly clear that drones are likely to play a big part in our future. From unmanned, same-day deliveries to driverless cars, the possibilities are endless for this type of technology, and various companies are scrambling to get in on the action. Facebook is the latest Internet titan to make waves in the drone space with plans to bring Internet to portions of the world not yet connected. Of course, this seemingly selfless move will allow these people to access Facebook, which would ultimately benefit the social media giant.

Daniel James has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends, Facebook, and Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of, Facebook, and Google. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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