SOCIAL MEDIA GIANTS
Drones brought down to Earth
Alphabet and Facebook battle strong headwinds in the race to achieve liftoff for universal wireless connectivity
San Francisco — In 2014, Google and Facebook vied to acquire Titan Aerospace, a maker of high-altitude, solar-powered drones. Google won the bidding, so Facebook purchased its own company, which was building a huge glider, Aquila. The idea was to beam internet access from the sky to get more people logging on from remote places to access information and probably use both companies’ web services. That soaring vision has come down to Earth with a bump.
On Wednesday, a spokeswoman from Google parent Alphabet’s X research lab said it had shut down Titan. This happened in early 2016, she said, although confirmation did not come until Thursday, when technology blog 9to5Google reported the move.
The team from Titan was brought into X in late 2015, and the research lab ended its exploration of high-altitude drones for internet access shortly thereafter, the X spokeswoman said.
Facebook has also struggled. Its Aquila drone crashed during a test flight in June, sparking an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. That was the latest hiccup in Facebook’s plans to connect the world wirelessly, following an explosion earlier in 2016 that destroyed one of its satellites and political resistance to its free services in India.
Alphabet cancelled Titan due to economic and technical challenges. Project Loon, another X project to beam internet from high-altitude balloons, is still going. So is Project Wing, an effort to use drones for deliveries, rather than internet service.
"By comparison, at this stage the economics and technical feasibility of Project Loon present a much more promising way to connect rural and remote parts of the world," the X spokeswoman said.