Google Joins The “Internet Access From The Sky” Race

  • Titan Aerospace developing a range of drones long flying drones
  • The Solara drone is lightweight and solar-powered so it can fly at 65,000 feet for five years non-stop
  • Expected to fly in areas Google’s balloons cannot cover


Google has beaten Facebook to buy drone firm Titan Aerospace in a bid to to bring the internet to the developing world.

Facebook had been expected to acquire the firm – but today Google revealed it had pipped them to the post.

The firm hopes to use the drones to bring internet access to large parts of the developing world, alongside its Project Loon balloon project.

‘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,’ a Google spokesman said in a statement.

The firm has not said how much it paid for the firm, which will remain in New Mexico.

Titan is developing two dragonfly-shaped drones, both of which use batteries charged by wing-mounted solar panels to remain aloft at night.

The smaller model, called the Solara 50, has a wingspan of 164 feet, slightly larger than a Boeing 767.

The firm’s drones can fly for upto five years at a time.

It had previously been reported Facebook was about to buy the firm.


The company was said to be interested in using the Solara 60 model, which is light-weight solar-powered and can fly at 65,000 feet for five years non-stop.

The Solara unmanned aircraft is 60 metres wide and self-sufficient as it is covered in around 3,000 solar panels producing about 7 kW of electricity.

 As it flies above the clouds, it is exposed to sunlight constantly during daylight hours and store energy for the night flight.

The drones are described as ‘atmospheric satellites’ that could be used for surveillance, to monitor weather and communications.

Facebook is interested in the latter function and reportedly thinks the drones could be used to provide sustainable regional internet systems.

However, this would mean all its drones would be used for the project, which is competing with Google’s ‘Project Loon’.

Google’s effort plans on using balloons instead of drones to bring internet access to rural and remote areas of the world – and nwill now include the Titan drones.

Experts have pointed out that Facebook’s recent acquisition of WhatsApp could be used to send messages in places with a weak and slow internet connection, while a data compression technology it bought, Onavo, could be used so that functions need less transmitted data to make them work.

While Facebook’s aim is altruistic, the company would also seem to be looking to the future, as by connecting communities, more people than ever before will get hooked on social media.

Titan Aerospace’s Solara 50 and Solara 60 drones are currently demonstrator models that can be flown and are launched in catapult, but commercial versions are expected next year.

They are designed to be cheaper than the cost of a satellite, while carrying out similar functions such as surveillance, crop-monitoring, weather and disaster oversight.


The Institution of Engineering and Technology’s deputy president, Professor William Webb, said: ‘The idea of using aerial platforms to deliver connectivity is one that is many decades old, from low-orbital satellites to balloons and more recently unmanned aerial vehicles.’

‘The difficultly has always been one of keeping the aerial platform in the right place in the sky for weeks or months at a low enough cost.

As technologies mature we get ever closer to achieving this.’

He warned that there are many challenges to overcome before the dream of providing internet access to remote communities via drone can be achieved.

‘Top of the list is the need to make the drones cost-effective, reliable and demonstrate to the regulators that they can operate safely in our airspace.

‘Many other issues associated with access to radio spectrum, national telecoms regulations and more will also need to be addressed,’ he added.


Power: Titan Aerospace’s drone is covered in around 3,000 solar panels producing about 7 kW of electricity – it flies above the clouds, so it is exposed to sunlight constantly during daylight hours.

Wingspan and payload: 60 metres wide. The Solara 60 carries a payload of 250 pounds.

Speed: Cruising speed for the Solara is about 65 mph.

Function: The drone can be used for surveillance, crop-monitoring, weather and disaster oversight – or to provide communication, which is what Facebook is said to be interested in.

Distance: The unmanned craft will have an operating range of over 2.8 million miles.

[Source]: Daily Mail
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