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Technology companies are expanding beyond the Net and taking to the skies — literally, with solar-powered drones that will beam broadband Internet access to the developing world, which houses growing numbers of newly minted Web users these companies want desperately to get their hands on.

Facebook recently purchased Ascenta, a UK-based startup that makes solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — or simply called drones — for $20 million. Now, Google has entered the fray, purchasing drone maker Titan Aerospace for an undisclosed sum, according to a posting on Titan’s now barebones Web site: “We’re thrilled to announce that Titan Aerospace is joining Google.”

In fact, Google scooped up the roughly 20-person startup, based in New Mexico and headed up by former Symantec CEO Vern Raburn, after it was widely reported that Facebook was interested in buying it.

Raburn will stay in charge of Titan Aerospace, Google told The Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the acquisition. His team will work closely with Google’s Project Loon, the outlandish initiative — born out of Google’s in-house “moon shot” facility Google X that brought us Glass and the self-driving car — to deliver Internet via air balloon. The drone company says it expects “initial commercial operations” to start in 2015.

Titan Aerospace, similar to Facebook-owned competitor Ascenta, is developing two insect-like drones — the smaller of the two with a wingspan a tad larger than a Boeing 767 — with wing-mounted solar panels that will power the aircraft’s batteries to keep it afloat at night. The aircraft, which will fly as high as 12 miles in the sky, are expected to have a long-term aerial lifespan of five years.

From here on out, the battle between tech giants is no longer just over your smartphone and its OS, your search engine of choice or the destination of your online social life’s most valuable, ad-targeted assets. The fight has gone to space, and it’s not likely to remain so uncrowded as more and more large corporations start snatching up companies like Titan Aerospace and Ascenta in the future.

Read the full story at cnet.com

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