Google Purchases Titan Aerospace, Goes Above and Beyond the Clouds


Rebecca Ou

Google is taking to the skies in the form of drone-powered technology. Technology giant Google and social media tycoon Facebook battled it out earlier this week for the acquisition of Titan Aerospace, a New Mexico based company that, according to CNN, makes “high-altitude solar-powered drones.” Google edged out Facebook, and Titan Aerospace officially made the announcement on Wednesday, April 16, on their website that the 2012 startup will officially join “the Google family.”

Google announced that it hopes to utilize the drone technology to help gather data for Google maps, as well as develop one of their ongoing projects, titled “Project Loon,” which strives to bring Internet access to the far corners of the map. A Google spokesperson told The Register shortly after the announcement was made, “Titan Aerospace and Google share a profound optimism about the potential for technology to improve the world.

Although their apparent interest in a drone company may sound alarming, futuristic technology is not new territory for Google. A growing sector of the company, known as “GoogleX” and overseen by Google co-founder Sergei Brin, has been rumored to be working on hoverboards and space-elevators, and is behind the development of Google Glass and the driverless car.

GoogleX also pioneered “Project Loon,” which aims to bring Internet access to rural areas around the globe.

“Many of us think of the Internet as a global community,” states the official Project Loon description. “But two-thirds of the world’s population does not yet have Internet access. Project Loon is a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters.”

Through the use of a more complicated version of a hot-air balloon, Loon would travel above airplane traffic and through the stratosphere, up to where it is needed. Households can then connect to the Loon for Internet access.

The practicality of the current direction of Project Loon is still uncertain; Mark Zuckerberg, head of Facebook, told the press that he believed drones were a better way to accomplish the goals of that project. Although Facebook lost Titan Aerospace to Google, The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook has purchased a similar company, Ascenta, a British company that makes long-endurance drones.

The objectives of Facebook seems similar to those of Google, in that they hope to use this advanced technology to, according to The Washington Post, provide Web access to “the next 5 billion people.”

“Apart from the altruistic motives, connecting new parts of the world also means new customers for Internet firms,” reports The Washington Post. This provides a better understanding as to why Google and Facebook are both so deeply invested in connecting as many people as possible to the Internet.

Titan Aerospace has joined a long line of technology companies that Google has acquired throughout the past several years. Earlier this year, the conglomerate purchased Nest, a company that markets a smart thermostat and smoke alarm in addition to other robotic home solutions.

Facebook has also completed a number of notable mergers in just this year alone. Just a few months after Google bought Nest, Facebook acquired the Irvine-based virtual reality company Oculus for $2 billion. But not to be outdone, soon after the Oculus transaction, Google spent half a million dollars on Deep Mind, a British artificial-intelligence company that researches the possibility of giving artificial intelligence a conscious mind.

Throughout Google and Facebook’s spending sprees, neither of the Silicon Valley-based corporations, especially Google, has specified what plans they have for the various companies they have snatched up as of late.

“In less than a year, Google has bought more than a half-dozen robotics companies, setting the industry abuzz,” NPR reports. And although there is a lot of speculation surrounding Google’s intentions, they have done little to confirm any of these hunches for what they have in store for these companies.

“Right now they are being pretty careful about what they are telling people,” Richard Mahoney, director of the robotics program at SRI International, said to NPR.

Although they seem to have been more transparent about their intentions for Titan Aerospace, it is difficult to be certain of Google’s plans. The direction that Facebook and Google are going indicate a number of projects going above and beyond social media and search engines, looking to make science fiction a reality. It is certainly something to keep an eye on as these projects grow and develop, but until Google announces its new line of robots or releases its first Loon into the stratosphere, our best guesses are still very much up in the air.