Google Acquires Drone Maker Titan Aerospace to Spread Internet

Apr 15, 2014 12:01 am ET

April 15 (Bloomberg) -- Google Inc. is adding drones to its fleets of robots and driverless cars.

The Internet-search company said yesterday that it acquired Titan Aerospace, a maker of high-altitude, solar-powered satellites that provides access to data services around the world. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Google is looking for new ways to offer online services to users through Project Loon, which it unveiled last year to help connect people in rural or remote areas to the Web using balloons and other machinery. The drones also provide high- resolution images of the earth, navigation and mapping services, and atmospheric monitoring systems.

“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,” Tim Drinan, a spokesman for Google, said in a statement yesterday. “It’s why we’re so excited to welcome Titan Aerospace to the Google family.”

With Titan, Google is joining other Web companies that have started experimenting with flying machines. Last month, Facebook Inc. said it acquired Ascenta, a U.K.-based aerospace company that also works with drones, as part of an effort to deliver the Web to underserved areas.

Facebook had earlier expressed interest in acquiring Titan before deciding against it, according to a person with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified because the process wasn’t made public. Vanessa Chan, a spokeswoman for Facebook, declined to comment. Facebook’s interest was reported last month by TechCrunch.

Delivery Drones

In December, Amazon.com Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos said the world’s largest online retailer is working with octocopters to deliver goods within a 10-mile radius from a company fulfillment center, with the aim of using the machines in four to five years.

Google, based in Mountain View, California, has been investing in numerous projects outside its main Internet-search business to extend its reach. The company has spent on products like Google Glass connected eyewear and driverless cars.

Last year, Google acquired Boston Dynamics Inc., which makes robots for the U.S. Defense Department. That company, based in Waltham, Massachusetts, is part of a new product area led by Andy Rubin, former head of the company’s Android mobile- software unit.

Robotics, Mapping

Google could use the acquisition of Titan, based in Moriarty, New Mexico, for more than just connecting people to the Internet, said Greg Sterling, an analyst at Opus Research in San Francisco. Other applications could include a tie-in with robotics or with mapping.

“Some of their investments are speculative, and they have a lot of money to throw around on things they may or may not develop into revenue sources or successful projects,” Sterling said. “In the past, some of these companies that have not kind of aggressively pushed into new areas have seen themselves outflanked by newer competitors.”

The Wall Street Journal reported on the acquisition earlier yesterday.