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Up in the sky! It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a Facebook drone!

Philip Pearlman
Philip Pearlman

Earlier this week, Facebook bought Oculus VR, a small, early stage company working on virtual reality.

And now this from the NYT:

Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and chief executive of Facebook, announced on Thursday that the company was creating a new lab of up to 50 aeronautics experts and space scientists to figure out how to beam Internet access down from solar-powered drones and other “connectivity aircraft.”

To start the effort, Facebook is buying Ascenta, a small British company whose founders helped to create early versions of an unmanned solar-powered drone, the Zephyr, which flew for two weeks in July 2010 and broke a world record for time aloft.

It might seem strange, these seemingly whacky and far afield moves the social behemoth is making. But there’s a method to Zuck’s madness and it is all about the future.

First, with the Oculus deal, Facebook is looking for the next big thing, perhaps the operating system of the future. As Union Square’s Fred Wilson Fred notes:

It isn’t clear if the next thing is virtual reality, the internet of things, drones, machine learning, or something else. Larry (Page) doesn’t know. Zuck doesn’t know. I don’t know. But the race is on to figure it out. Trillions of dollars of collective market capitalizations are on the line. So a couple billion here or there is chump change.

Second, and now with the drone move, Facebook is looking for a way to negate its dependence on the traditional internet providers. While Zuckerberg insists that his aim is to connect the poorer and more remote geographies, the rationale he won’t publicize involves a future of connectivity drones covering the U.S. where consumers are the wealthiest and revenues are greatest.

Personally, I won’t be happy until Facebook drones and Google balloons put the cable companies out of business, or at least provoke them to reduce price and improve customer service.

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