Google Will Buy Drone-Maker Titan Aerospace, A Start-Up Everyone Expected To Be Bought — By Facebook

Big news out of the tech industry Monday, as Google will acquire Titan Aerospace, a startup manufacturer of high-altitude aerial drones. If you've heard the name Titan Aerospace in recent months, there's a good reason — it was reported in March that Titan Aerospace was in talks with Facebook, stirring speculation that the social media giant was planning to use near-orbit drones to provide internet access to the developing world. Now, it turns out that Google got the deal, and seem to have the same designs in mind that Facebook did.

Titan's employees, of which there are roughly 20, will remain on at the company. It will continue to be run by Vern Rayburn, Titan's chief executive, formerly of Microsoft and Symantec. The applications from Google's perspective are considerable — it's expected that the Titan team will collaborate on Google's Project Loon, which is focused on launching high-altitude balloons to carry internet connectivity over regions sorely lacking it.

It's also possible that they'll work on Makani — another Google scheme to develop energy-efficient, airborne wind turbines — and the possible applications for Google Maps' aerial photography are obvious. Aside from that, Google is keeping things somewhat vague, but foreshadowing large-scale projects. Said a spokesman:

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.

Having the technology to launch a drone up to a near-orbital altitude, and to keep it there untouched for a period of years, was precisely the advantage which Facebook was reportedly mulling over last month in considering a purchase of Titan. Still in development, their drones are planned to utilize wing-mounted solar panels to stay aloft, even at night, and are anticipate to be able to stay aloft for a staggering five years straight.

Titan claims that the drones could help provide one gigabit per second connectivity, which dwarfs what's available in countless underserved parts of the world.

Facebook ultimately decided instead to purchase two different tech entities: messaging app WhatsApp, for a staggering $16 billion, and virtual reality startup Oculus, for a more modest $2 billion. The question remains, however — did something cause Facebook to back away from the table, or did Google steal this out from under them? Only Mark Zuckerberg knows for sure, and we have a hunch he won't tell.