Are deep-pocketed web companies laying the groundwork for a for-profit internet all of their own?
Close on the heals of Facebook, internet search giant Google entered into the drone technology race in a big way on Monday as it announced the purchase of the Titan Aerospace company.
Though details of the deal remain unclear, Titan specializes in high-altitude drone technology that uses solar energy to power its pilot-less aircraft that can stay aloft for as long as five years.
"If they can get past the technical challenge, they could build proprietary networks offering Internet and wireless bandwidth that are worth billions and billions of dollars."
"Titan Aerospace and Google share a profound optimism about the potential for technology to improve the world, " Google said in a statement Monday. "It's 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."
Though pitched to the public as a vision of progress where drones can provide internet access to rural communities, provide better mapping or even assists in search and rescue operations, the proliferation of drone technology—given their controversial use in modern warfare and surveillance—may give many pause for concern.
Google's announced purchase comes just weeks after the high-profile social media company Facebook confirmed it was investing in a start-up drone company, UK-based Ascenta, as part of a plan to use high-flying, solar-powered aircraft. In fact, Facebook initially showed interest in Titan as well, before ultimately deciding on Ascenta.
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Taken together, the acquisitions reveal that both companies see the future of high-altitude drones as integral to their business plans and the future of internet technology. The experts and technology brought in from Titan, according to Google, will be integrated with their existing Google Loon Project, which uses high-flying balloons to broadcast internet signals.
For Google and Facebook, what seems to be of most appeal is the potential profit model that drone-generated internet access could provide. If the current technical barriers can be overcome, according to the Wall Street Journal, the technology could have significant financial upsides:
the potential for Internet service delivered from high-altitude drones or balloons is presumed to be large, suggesting a reason for Google and Facebook to pursue the technology.
"If they can get past the technical challenge, they could build proprietary networks offering Internet and wireless bandwidth that are worth billions and billions of dollars," Mr. Egan said.
Facebook and Google potentially could reach millions of new customers for their services as more of the world gets online, and the companies could also sell their bandwidth to other providers, he explained.
The biggest opportunity may be in the developing world, where Google and Facebook are battling to be the first point of contact.