Invictus Institute’s outlook is bright. In addition to the ongoing work in Uganda and India, we recently began tutoring students from a new Bangladeshi school, and held our first-ever tutoring session in Ghana on Thursday, February 23rd (stay tuned for future blog posts detailing those occasions).
As with any social venture, however, obstacles persist even in the face of progress. When asked about major obstructions to the work of Invictus Institute, founder Kasey Beck immediately pointed to a fundamental facet of our mission: “internet bandwidth in developing countries.”
He is far from the only one to recognize this issue. A 2015 United Nations report entitled “The State of Broadband” estimates that there are “some 4.2 billion of the world’s people who still do not enjoy regular access to the Internet,” amounting to over half the world’s population. The disparity is particularly poignant in the UN’s 48 Least Developed Countries, where over 90% of citizens have no Internet access whatsoever. Of the 48 LDCs, Invictus Institute operates or will soon operate in five of them – Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Solomon Islands, Uganda, and Vanuatu.
A repeated emphasis of “The State of Broadband” is how helpful Internet access could be in these developing states. The implications of connectivity are limited only by one’s imagination. Farmers could plant their crops based on online weather forecasts. Health officials could spread warnings of the next Ebola/Zika-level epidemic faster, as well as precautions to take for avoiding it. And Invictus Institute’s volunteer mentors could interact with their students more frequently and reliably, propelling those communities’ education levels.
While each nation formulates their own strategy for granting their constituents’ Internet access, two broader solutions are emerging literally on the horizon from two private corporations: Facebook’s Project Aquila, and Google’s Project Loon.
On June 28, 2016, Facebook launched their first Aquila drone, an enormous (yet lightweight) solar-powered aircraft that can stay aloft for up to 90 days. Equipped with laser communication systems, Aquila is designed to beam down to receivers on the ground (as well as other aircraft), which then convert the lasers into Internet connections. By floating above regulated airspace away from traditional planes, a vast fleet of Aquila drones could one day dot the skies, bringing stable Internet connections to developing nations who lack the financial assets to install fiber optics cables, launch satellites, or erect cellular towers.
Though it temporarily invested in a similar Internet-providing drone project called Titan, Google’s focus now rests on a different aircraft: balloons. Project Loon (named for how ludicrous the idea initially sounded) bears a strong resemblance to Project Aquila, with a fleet of aircraft destined to rise to similar altitudes as the Aquila drones. Once in the stratosphere, Google believes it will then be able to direct the balloons by adjusting their latitude and longitude; such atmospheric heights have relatively predictable wind patterns and low levels of turbulence. Once positioned properly, the balloons relay an Internet signal to each other and, eventually, a ground-level station. This will allow remote, sparsely populated residences with the proper antennas to use the Internet.
It should be noted that both projects are in their early years and still experiencing growing pains. Project Loon balloons have crashed about a dozen times throughout the world, from Uruguay to South Africa. And while the test flight was originally deemed a success, Facebook disclosed (months later) that its Aquila drone was “substantially damaged” upon landing, rendering the prototype flightless.
Still, the implications for both ventures are exciting. As they are children of two of the most powerful tech companies on the globe, Aquila and Loon could conceivably never worry about funding. This stands in stark contrast to the developing nations too poor to even fund vaccinations or roads, let alone Internet-enabling infrastructure. If one or both aerial networks pans out, Invictus Institute could be one of many beneficiaries to a more worldwide worldwide web.