Google Buys Drone Maker Titan Aerospace

The acquisition is intended to boost Google’s plans to spread Internet access more broadly, and could also benefit its Maps division

Google is getting into the high-altitude drone business with its purchase of Titan Aerospace in a move that is closely linked to Google’s Project Loon efforts, which use high-altitude balloons to build a high-speed Internet network.

The Titan Aerospace acquisition by Google is being made as the company continues to assemble “more aerial technology to collect images and get more of the world’s population online,” according to a 14 April report by The Wall Street Journal. The price paid for Moriarty, New Mexico-based Titan was not announced, the story reported.


‘Atmospheric satellites’

A Google spokesperson, who asked to remain anonymous, confirmed the deal in an email reply to eWEEK. “Titan Aerospace and Google share a profound optimism about the potential for technology to improve the world,” the spokesperson said. “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. It’s why we’re so excited to welcome Titan Aerospace to the Google family.”

A spokesperson for Titan could not immediately be reached.

Interestingly, Facebook had earlier been interested in buying Titan but passed on the company, instead acquiring British aerospace company Ascenta in March for $20 million (£12.6m), according to a story by The Guardian.

After the Google acquisition, Titan and its roughly 20 employees will remain in New Mexico, the Journal reported. Titan’s current chief executive, Vern Raburn, who once headed Symantec and Microsoft’s consumer-products division, will remain, the story said.

“Google said the Titan team will work closely with Google’s Project Loon, which is building large, high-altitude balloons that send Internet signals to areas of the world that are currently not online,” the Journal report continued. “Titan may also work with Makani, another early-stage Google project that is developing an airborne wind turbine that it hopes will generate energy more efficiently.”

Real-time imagery

In addition, “Titan says its drones will be able to collect real-time, high-resolution images of the earth, carry other atmospheric sensors and support voice and data services,” according to the Journal report. “That type of technology could also help other Google businesses, including its Maps division.”

Accounts about Facebook’s interest in Titan first surfaced in early March, according to a TechCrunch story, which reported that Facebook was interested in using the company’s high-altitude drones “to blanket parts of the world without Internet access, beginning with Africa.” Under that scenario, Titan would have reportedly built about 11,000 of the unmanned aerial vehicles for the Facebook plans, the story reported.

High-altitude Internet networks have been on Google’s radar since the company launched its Project Loon experiments in 2013. Project Loon uses a series of high-altitude balloons to build a high-speed Internet network that could be used to bring affordable Internet service to far-flung locations around the world for the first time, according to Google. The experiment is being touted as a high-tech way to create Internet connections for two-thirds of the people in the world who currently don’t have Internet access due to high costs and the difficulty of stringing connections in rural and far-flung parts of the world.

The Loon concepts were first tested in June 2013 in an experimental pilot project in Christchurch and Canterbury in New Zealand, where 50 volunteer testers worked to connect with the balloons high above, according to Google. The New Zealand pilot tests showed that the concept could work and confirmed that balloon-powered Internet may be a viable approach, so Google is now doing testing in California to try to replicate and grow that initial success.


Google has made some other notable acquisitions in recent months. In February, Google bought SlickLogin to add the Israeli startup’s sound-based log-in authentication services to Google’s always-broadening reach in the IT marketplace. The system allows users to place their telephone next to their laptops or tablets when logging in to secure sites so that the company’s app can “hear” the high-pitched sounds used for authentication and log the user in.

In January, Google acquired Bitspin, the Swiss maker of the free Timely alarm clock app for Android, which is available for free on Google Play. Bitspin allows users to customise many features that they want to use in the alarm clock app, according to the company. One of the most useful features of Timely is that it uses the cloud to back up and synchronise a user’s alarms with multiple devices.

In September 2013, Google bought Bump, which created the Bump app that lets users move files from smartphones to computers and vice versa by “bumping” the spacebar with the device to make the transfer, or by bumping their smartphones together. The company was acquired for a reported $40 million. On December 31, 2013, however, just four months after the Bump acquisition, Bump announced that Google would discontinue its services.

In June 2013, Google made another intriguing mobile app acquisition when it bought Waze, a crowd-based traffic and navigation app for mobile devices. Waze collects and communicates user-generated reports on traffic and navigation information to help drivers ease their commuting stresses. Google paid about $1.3 billion to acquire the Israel-based Waze to add to Google’s growing portfolio of popular and revenue-enhancing mapping tools.

Google’s discussions with Waze began after previous talks between Waze and Facebook failed to reach a similar agreement. Those discussions came after yet another rumoured deal arose in late 2012 when Apple purportedly was about to purchase Waze. At the time, the rumours called for Apple to acquire Waze to bolster its own mapping services, which had suffered after Apple tried to build a Google Maps replacement for its iOS 6 operating system in September 2012.

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Originally published on eWeek.