Facebook Wants to Buy Drones to Provide Internet to Everyone

Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) is in talks to purchase drone-maker Titan Aerospace, a company that makes solar-powered drones that function almost like satellites, flying at near-orbit heights for up to five years without needing to come back down to Earth. The talks between the two companies were confirmed by The Verge, which also suggested the drones would be perfect for the Internet.org initiative Facebook takes part in.

“An atmospheric satellite is a drone that can perform most of the operations of an orbital satellite like weather monitoring or Earth imaging, but is less expensive,” Titan says of its drones in the video above. Facebook would be less interested in those functions than in the drone’s potential in communications. Facebook could use the drones to house equipment for Internet connections, then fly them above areas that still don’t have reliable Internet access.

Facebook is one of the primary backers of the Internet.org project, which describes itself as “a global partnership between technology leaders, nonprofits, local communities, and experts who are working together to bring the Internet to the two-thirds of the world’s population that doesn’t have it.” The project isn’t completely altruistic, though, as it is in Facebook’s interest that more people have access to the Web so that more people can get connected to Facebook.

TechCrunch pointed out that for now, users in developing nations don’t have much buying power, and so Facebook won’t make much money from showing them ads, but the company is more interested in the long-term development of dedicated Facebook users around the world. The recent acquisition of WhatsApp will also be helpful, as the messaging app could be used by people in developing nations who may not have access to cellphone service to send text messages.

Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) have been making their own investments and research into drone technology, but for delivery and factory use rather than communications. Amazon made a widely publicized video last year showing its delivery drones dropping off a package on someone’s front lawn. The end goal would be for the company to be able to deliver packages within hours of a purchase. Google has been scooping up robotics companies left and right over the past year and recently purchased an airplane hangar from NASA in which to store its robots.

Google also has a competing project to get Internet to more of the world’s population, using balloons rather than drones. Project Loon, which was launched over the summer, uses balloons that fly 12 miles above the Earth to transmit signals and establish connections to the Internet. This could also get Web access to people living in developing nations or isolated, rural areas. The more people worldwide that have access to the Internet, the better for companies who make money via the Internet.

According to an anonymous source who spoke to TechCrunch, the acquisition price of Titan Aerospace is about $60 million.

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