Google has ‘soared’ ahead of Facebook in the race to bring connectivity to some of the the world’s most under-developed regions following the acquisition of solar-powered drone making company Titan Aerospace yesterday. The web giant says that its new drones will be used to assist in “Project Loon”, its existing scheme to deliver internet accessibility using high-altitude balloons.
Google is believed to have snatched Titan Aerospace out of the hands of Facebook, which was also interested in acquiring the company for its own drone-driven internet delivery plans. However, Facebook eventually snapped up a company called Ascenta, a different drone specialist, leaving Titan Aerospace free to team up with Google. The company is to continue running its operations out of New Mexico, and will remain under the same CEO.
Titan’s drones are already very well developed, and its prototypes have already capable of ‘beaming’ WiFi signals to businesses and people below them. Currently, it has two model drones in development, each of which sports solar-panel covered wings that can keep them aloft in the air for months at a time.
The commercial launch of Titan Aerospace’s drones was previously penciled in for sometime in 2015, with the company claiming download speeds of a reasonable 1Gbps. It’s not known if this will change now that Google has taken charge.
A spokesperson for Google told the Wall Street Journal that internet delivery was its primary reason for buying the company:
“It is still early days, but atmospheric satellites could help bring Internet access to millions of people, and help solve other problems, including disaster relief and environmental damage like deforestation,” a Google spokesman said in a statement.
Google’s existing Project Loon already does something similar, but there are concerns that its balloons may not be so reliable, being at the mercy of the weather. Even so, that project has met with reasonable success, with its balloons recently completing their first circumnavigation of the globe.
There may be a second reason Google has acquired Titan. Forbes notes that the deal may be about more than just internet delivery, as Titan’s drones also come with advanced imagery capabilities that could be used to bring more rapid updates to Google Maps.
Just last week, it was reported in the Silicon Valley Business Journal that Google was looking to buy the satellite maker Skybox Imaging. That company “develops satellites that are smaller and cheaper than traditional satellites, allowing the company to launch and maintain a larger network of them”, something that would fit in well with Google’s ambitions to be the world’s leading maps specialists.
The price of the acquisition has not been disclosed, though a ballpark figure of around $60 million was suggested at the time Facebook was said to be interested in buying Titan.