Facebook reportedly in talks to buy high-altitude drone makers Titan Aerospace

Social network could use high-altitude craft as part of it's internet.org initiative, providing internet access to developing markets

Facebook is reportedly in talks to buy Titan Aerospace, makers of solar-powered, high-altitude drones that can stay aloft for up to five years at a time.

It’s thought that the social network is interested in using the aircraft to provide internet access in developing markets as part of its internet.org initiative.

This project, launched by Mark Zuckerberg last August in partnership with companies including Nokia and Qualcomm, aims to cut the cost of internet access across the world and connect “the next five billion people” to the web.

Reports from TechCrunch suggest that Facebook is interested in buying the drone manufacturer for $60 million and would begin by building 11,000 Solara 60 aircraft to provide internet access in Africa.

Titan Aerospace, a private company with research and development facilities in New Mexico, unveiled its Solara 50 and Solara 60 unmanned aerial vehicles last year, marketing them as extremely cheap alternatives to satellites.

The craft can be launched at night powered by an internal battery and once airborne use solar panels embedded into their 160-foot long wingspan to power them. The aircraft have a mission range of over 4 million kilometres and operate at an altitude of 65,000 feet.

This places them well above commercial airliners flying at around 30,000 feet, as well as regulated air-space in the US (the FAA’s jurisdiction goes up to 60,000 feet) while the high altitude also means that they are out of reach of turbulence, sitting in a calm atmospheric area known as the tropopause.

Speaking to Fortune magazine last year, Titan Aerospace chief electrical engineer Dustin Sanders said that the company wanted to create a “single-million-dollar-per-aircraft platform” as opposed to the billions involved in launching a satellite.

“The operation cost is almost nothing,” said Sanders “You're paying some dude to watch the payload and make sure the aircraft doesn't do anything stupid."

If Facebook does follow through on this acquisition it would put them into direct competition with Google’s own ‘Project Loon’, a similar initiative that aims to provide internet via a network of high-altitude weather balloons.

The Solara 50 drone.

Both Facebook and Google’s projects have been criticized in the past for disguising commercial goals as altruism. Microsoft founder Bill Gates was among those who spoke out, noting last year in an interview with Businessweek that “when a kid gets diarrhea, no, there’s no website that relieves that.”

Facebook’s interest in providing even slow internet to new parts of the world would also complement its recent acquisition of WhatsApp, a simple mobile messaging service that uses relatively small amounts of data to replace SMS and MMS text messaging.

While a ‘drone project’ might sound like a significant development for Zuckerberg’s social network, it’s worth remembering that the price being mooted for Titan Aerospace ($60 million) is a fraction of what the company paid for WhatsApp ($19 billion). 

Read more: Facebook's hunt for five billion new friends
'There's more to internet.org than a new audience for Facebook'
Bill Gates hits out at Google's internet balloon project
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

    £30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

    Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Engineer - Linux, Windows, Cloud - Central London

    £40000 - £48000 per annum + 10% bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engin...

    Recruitment Genius: Configuration and Logistics Team Member

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has over 30 years ...

    Guru Careers: Creative Director / Head of Creative

    £65K - £75K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Creative Director...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence