Facebook is reportedly in the process of purchasing Titan Aerospace, a manufacturer of high altitude solar powered drones.
According to TechCruch, the deal would be worth around USD $60 million.
So why would Facebook be interested in solar powered drones?
Facebook is part of the Internet.org initiative; which has a goal of bringing affordable connectivity to the billions of people around the world who still don’t have suitable access to the Internet. Drones such as the type that Titan Aerospace builds can stay aloft for long periods and act as signal repeaters.
Titan Aerospace Solar 50 can stay aloft for 5 years and is able to provide coverage of over 17,800 square kilometres. Given the near-orbital capabilities of the craft, it has the ability to park a stationary payload directly above a specific point.
Facebook isn’t the only online giant looking to bring the Internet (and of course, its own services) to billions more. Last year we mentioned Google’s Project Loon; which will be a network of balloons positioned 20 km above the Earth’s surface. Each has a payload of transmission equipment able to provide connectivity to a ground area about 40 km in diameter.
Solar energy also plays an important role in Project Loon, with solar panels and batteries providing the power needed to operate the electronics.
Project Loon began with a pilot test in June 2013 and the program will continue to expand this year, with the goal of establishing a ring of uninterrupted connectivity around the 40th southern parallel. The company launched a further 10 balloons from near Timaru in New Zealand late last week.
Google has recently also filed more patents relating to Project Loon; covering aspects such as Geo-Fencing, Incentivised Recovery of Balloon Materials and Balloon Altitude Control Using Density Adjustment and/or Volume Adjustment.