Google buys drone maker Titan Aerospace

SAN FRANCISCO - Google has bought drone manufacturer Titan Aerospace, ramping up its efforts to connect parts of the world that do not have Internet access.

The tech giant said on Monday that the drones will augment its efforts to use giant helium balloons armed with networking equipment to bring Internet connectivity to remote places.

"Titan Aerospace and Google share a profound optimism about the potential for technology to improve the world," the company said in a statement that was also posted on Titan's website. "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."

Google declined to disclose the acquisition price.

Google is not the only tech company looking to get users in parts of the world currently off the network connected to the Web; Facebook has also said it will employ drones to fix that problem. For both companies, the efforts could pay off in terms of millions of new customers.

Some of the drones built by Titan will be able to stay in the air for up to five years without refuelling or landing, according to the company's website. The drones are in development and, the company has said, are on track to begin launching next year. The two-year-old company has 20 employees, who are expected to stay as part of the deal.

Media reports had previously indicated that Titan, which is based in New Mexico, was being courted by Facebook. Instead, Facebook announced last month that it had bought a British drone maker, Ascenta. The social network plans to use the drones to provide Web access to "the next five billion" people. About two-thirds of the world's population are not connected to the Internet. Amazon.com also has expressed interest in developing drones - though those would fly closer to home, as delivery vehicles.

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, which makes robots for the United States Defence Department. That company, based in Waltham, Massachusetts, is part of a new product area led by Mr Andy Rubin, former head of the company's Android mobile software unit.

Google could use the acquisition of Titan for more than just connecting people to the Internet, said Mr 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," Mr 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."

WASHINGTON POST, BLOOMBERG