Facebook eyes solar-powered drone company

Facebook would reportedly use the drones to bring Internet connectivity to remote areas

Facebook is reportedly buying Titan Aerospace, a New Mexico-based company known for making solar-powered drones.

Analysts speculate that Facebook may want to use the drones to bring Internet connectivity to the two-thirds of the world that are not connected.

The social networking company is reportedly paying $60 million for Titan Aerospace, according to TechCrunch, which cited unnamed sources.

Titan Aerospace's Solara drone
Titan Aerospace's Solara drone. (Image: Titan Aerospace)

Neither Titan Aerospace nor Facebook responded to requests for confirmation.

The aerospace company builds light-weight, high-flying drones that can take off at 20 mph and remain aloft for five years. The company's Solara 50 drone, for instance, can fly as high as 65,000 feet above Earth.

"Drones are the latest rage with tech companies these days," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "Amazon, Google and Facebook, plus a whole lot more seem to be looking for ways they can shoehorn drones into their business plans. And what young geek didn't dream of having a remote control flying machine that could do anything they wanted it to do?"

But could Facebook use these drones to bring Internet connectivity to remote areas? Sure, but it's not the only way they could go about it.

Last June, Google's research arm, Google X, announced that it was working on affordable Internet connectivity through the use of a fleet of high-altitude balloons. The company tested its plan by launching 30 balloons that flew twice as high as commercial airplanes with 50 users trying to connect to the Internet from below.

Amazon.com had another use for drones, and in December announced plans to use the machines to deliver merchandise to customers. Possibly taking a page from Domino's old promise of delivering pizzas in 30 minutes or less, Amazon said with drones, some customers could get their purchases within half an hour.

"Could drones be the way to provide net connections in Third World countries?" asked Olds. "Yeah, maybe, but wouldn't a set of non-sexy, long-range cell towers or low-power, cost-optimized microwave repeaters be a better solution? Sure, there are some drawbacks to physical infrastructure on the ground, but they can be worked around."

He reiterated that drones simply are the cool new tech tool. How could a tech company with very deep pockets resist?

Amazon.com had another use for drones, and in December announced plans to deliver merchandise to customers via drones. Possibly taking a page from Domino's old promise of delivering pizzas in 30 minutes or less, Amazon said with drones, some customers could get their purchases within half an hour.

Just last August, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that he was launching a global initiative, called internet.org, to bring Internet access to the two-thirds of the world -- 5 billion people -- that are not yet connected.

Facebook is teaming up on the project with technology companies Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung.

At the time the initiative was announced, Zuckerberg said the group would be working to create cheaper smartphones, enhanced network capabilities and services that make it easier for people to access the Internet.

This article, Facebook eyes solar-powered drone company, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

From CIO: 8 Free Online Courses to Grow Your Tech Skills
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies