Too Slow, Facebook: Google Buys Drone Maker Titan Aerospace

GPS satellite

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) has purchased the high-altitude drone maker Titan Aerospace out from under Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), which confirmed it was in talks with the drone company last month. Titan Aerospace announced the acquisition on its website.

“At Titan Aerospace, we’re passionate believers in the potential for technology (and in particular, atmospheric satellites) to improve people’s lives. It’s still early days for the technology we’re developing, and there are a lot of ways that we think we could help people, whether it’s providing Internet connections in remote areas or helping monitor environmental damage like oil spills and deforestation. That’s why we couldn’t be more excited to learn from and work with our new colleagues as we continue our research, testing and design work as part of the Google family,” the company said.

How much Google payed for the company was not confirmed, but sources familiar with the deal who spoke to The Wall Street Journal said that Google went to Titan Aerospace and offered to top any offer Facebook would make. According to USA Today, Facebook had offered $60 million for the company before deciding to buy the similar U.K.-based aerospace company Ascenta for $20 million.

Titan Aerospace makes solar-powered drones that function almost like satellites, flying at high altitudes and running on solar power without needing to return to Earth for up to five years. Facebook was interested in acquiring the drones to use for its project, which aims to bring the Internet to the two-thirds of the world that doesn’t have access to it. Drones could be used to provide Internet signals in locations without the infrastructure necessary to build towers and other equipment to get citizens connected.

Google wants to use the company for its similar Project Loon, which seeks to accomplish the same goal using high-altitude balloons to provide Internet connections. “Project Loon is a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters,” Google says on Loon’s website.

Titan Aerospace isn’t the only satellite company that Google has expressed interest in recently. It was reported last week that the company has been engaging in talks with mini satellite maker Skybox Imaging, which utilizes microsatellites to deliver high-resolution imagery and video to its clients. Instead of Project Loon, Google would likely use Skybox’s high-quality imaging to improve Google Maps and Google Earth.

While the goal of providing Internet access to people in developing nations and rural areas might seem like an altruistic goal, Google and Facebook are battling to be the first company to make contact with those people, in order to make money by showing them ads and providing them with services like cheap, Internet-based text messaging. While users in those areas may not have huge amounts of buying power, both companies would grow by cultivating more dedicated users for their services around the world.

Follow Jacqueline on Twitter @Jacqui_WSCS