‘facebook drones to share wifi’ – web summit 2015

One of the main names that was always going to be a big draw at the Summit was Facebook. Being the largest social media company in the world, you’re going draw a crowd, in this case, a full Centre Stage.
Mike Schroepfer, the Chief Technology Officer for Facebook, took the stage to talk about a side to Facebook that the vast majority of its users don’t know about.
He told the crowd of Facebook’s three pillars of its future; planetary connectivity, natural interfaces, and immersive experiences.
Much like Google, Facebook makes its money from people using its site. To make more money, it needs more people using its site, so Facebook is making moves in planetary connectivity to get more and more people on the planet online.
Schroepfer showed off the Aquila drones that Facebook will send up into the low atmosphere that will share cellular and wi-fi connections to people below. These will primarily be used in places that have poor, regular signals, which Schroepfer said was still nearly 80% of the planet.
Up next, natural interfaces, and Schroepfer began by reminding the audience of Facebook M, the company’s artificial assistant, akin to Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana, which is currently in beta testing in the US.
Schroepfer made it clear in this part of his talk that Facebook is throwing all the R&D it can at the AI behind M, with specific work being done on visual learning.
A blurry image was shown on the screen as a demo of the AI was walked through. We saw how the software recognised a baby sitting with a man who was typing. When the image was made clear to us, that’s exactly what we saw.
This form of AI would prove incredible for those with poor vision or total blindness, a group that was been excluded from the visual emphasis of the web. If Facebook gets this fully functioning in its apps, it’s going to open a whole new swath of users to them.
Finishing up on immersive experiences, Schroepfer talked about Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus, the company behind the stellar Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. 
When Facebook bought Oculus, many thought what would they do with a gaming accessory company. Schroepfer demonstrated that Oculus has moved way beyond just games.
Pushing the slogan “true sense of presence and social interaction”, we saw how they were working on ways that you get more involved with VR by using your hands too, with new hardware called Oculus Touch, a joystick-type device you hold and move around to move in virtual space.
While what we saw still looks very game-like, two bodies in virtual space playing with a ball and paddle, you can get the sense that Facebook and Oculus are still working on the technology before the practicality. They’re making sure they can do ‘it’ before they know what ‘it’ is.
These three big moon shots from Facebook highlight that this is a company that knows it has to invest in its own future. With now over one billion users, how does it keep more coming? Connecting the planet, providing new interfaces, and have unique, immersive experiences seem a good start.
Photo:Kevin Kelly