Facebook is stepping back from its plan to bring the internet to the world via giant drones

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
Image: Facebook
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Facebook is no longer in the business of building giant drones to bring the internet to the world.

The company has ditched part of its troubled Project Aquila, it quietly announced Tuesday (June 26), after news emerged (paywall) that the effort’s head, Andrew Cox, and Facebook’s director of aeronautical platforms, Martin Gomez, had both quit earlier this year.

The project launched in 2014 with the ambitious vision of beaming an internet signal via laser connection from Boeing 747-sized drones that Facebook would build itself (the company bought a UK drone company for $20 million). The aircraft would fly over areas that otherwise would not have internet access for months at a time, powered by the sun.

In a post, director of engineering at the company, Yael Maguire, writes that Facebook has seen companies in the aerospace industry investing in this technology as well. “Given these developments, we’ve decided not to design or build our own aircraft any longer, and to close our facility” located in Bridgwater in the UK. Business Insider reports that this has led to the layoff of about 16 people at the site.

In the US, the company faced significant legal hurdles to get the drones off the ground. While Maguire touts the Facebook-made drones’ two “successful full-scale test flights,” the Aquila drone crashed on its first flight.

Facebook says it’s not abandoning the project entirely, and that it will continue working with partners like Airbus on some of the technologies needed to make the connectivity effort work. It just won’t try to build enormous drones, thousands of miles away from the company’s headquarters.