Facebook aims to bridge digital divide, including for women, with solar-powered drones

Kathryn Cook, technical program manager for Facebook, is photographed with a picture of the prototype for "Aquila" in Menlo Park, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. Aquila is a drone being developed by the company's connectivity lab to deliver internet to remote areas. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

Kathryn Cook, technical program manager for Facebook, is photographed with a picture of the prototype for “Aquila” in Menlo Park, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. Aquila is a drone being developed by the company’s connectivity lab to deliver internet to remote areas. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

By QUEENIE WONG

Kathryn Cook used to envision herself working as a materials engineer in a lab, but after graduating from UC Berkeley and spending time in the aerospace industry, she pondered how her work could make a greater impact.

That self-reflection in 2015 led Cook to Facebook, where the 29-year-old technical program manager leads a team that’s working on solar-powered drones to beam internet access to remote areas. About 4 billion people in the world don’t have internet access, according to a report last year by the Broadband Commission for Digital Development.

“I think access to information is extremely powerful and shouldn’t be limited,” said Cook, who is scheduled as a keynote speaker at the Society of Women Engineers’ conference Feb. 24 in San Jose. “People should be allowed to form their own thoughts and make their own decisions. Without all that information, it can be more difficult to form those decisions.”

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