March 4, 2014
Titan Aerospace Deal Could Give Facebook A Drone-Based Internet
Enid Burns for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Facebook is focused on blanketing the world with Internet, and it may be poised with taking the next step in reaching underdeveloped areas where it has yet to become available. The social network is reportedly in talks to acquire Titan Aerospace for as much as $60 million, TechCrunch reports.If the acquisition goes through, Facebook can launch a fleet of drones to orbit certain areas to supply Internet to those areas. It will go a long way in advancing the Internet.org Alliance initiative, an organization which Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is heavily involved.
One of Titan Aerospace's products are drones that can fly for up to five years without having to land, using solar energy to power flight -- this is likely the reason Facebook is interested in the company.
"From our understanding, Facebook is interested in using these high-flying drones to blanket parts of the world without Internet access, beginning with Africa. The company would start by building 11,000 of these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), specifically the 'Solara 60' model," wrote TechCrunch's Josh Constine.
While the drones can supply Internet to areas more economically than atmospheric satellites, the drones can serve other purposes. The Solara 60 and other models can perform duties such as weather monitoring, disaster recovery, earth imaging and communications.
"The Solara 50 and 60 models can be launched at night using power from internal battery packs, then when the sun rises, they can store enough energy to ascend to 20KM above sea level where they can remain for five years without needing to land or refuel. Such capabilities make them ideal for regional Internet systems, like those that Internet.org would be focused on," wrote Constine.
TechCrunch notes that Titan Aerospace is a privately held company that has raised Series A and A-1 rounds of funding, though the amount of funding remains undisclosed. The company announced in October that it was prepared to open a Series B round of funding. Titan Aerospace is led by CEO Vern Raburn, and houses its R&D facilities in New Mexico.
Facebook is not the only Internet company hoping to help the developing world gain access to the Internet. Google is among the companies involved in the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI). The group was founded by World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee and hopes to assist the United Nations' Broadband Commission in providing Internet availability throughout developing nations by 2015.
Google has worked to launch a fleet of its own airborne Internet antennas with its "Project Loon." Loon, short for balloon, is a project that deploys balloons with antennas to transmit a signal for people in developing countries to access and use the Internet.
Acquiring Titan Aerospace and launching Internet-serving drones over developing countries could go hand-in-hand with another recent Facebook acquisition, TechCrunch reported.
"If Facebook could project weak but free Internet to developing nations via Titan Aerospace drones, it could then make a basic version of WhatsApp available to those users. They may not be able to send or view photos, but they likely could send messages and view status updates, even if they only had a weak, slow connection," Constine wrote.
"Facebook’s acquisition of Onavo could lend a hand, too. We hear the team is hard at work on data compression technologies that would allow the same functions to require less transmitted data to complete. Onavo-optimized WhatsApp or Facebook apps could run on a weaker Internet signal, such as from drones, because they don’t need to send or receive as much data," Constine continued.