Google, or rather Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has quietly confirmed that it closed its internet drone project, ‘Titan’, in early 2016 – a mere two years after it competed with and outbid Facebook to buy the business.
Project Titan was an ambitious solar-powered drone program, whereby an unmanned glider that could stay aloft for months would give cheap and fast internet access to remote areas of the globe, acting as a kind of atmospheric satellite.
While the initial outlook for the solar-powered atmospheric unmanned gliders was positive, the Titan project has experienced several technical difficulties in its short tenure with Alphabet.
A wing fault caused one of the test gliders to crash in Arizona in 2015, and it has been reported that the research team had ran out of money, and were considerably over-budget.
The axing of the project by Alphabet is thought to be part of the company’s efforts to cut back on the number of ‘moon-shot’ projects. Most, if not all the 50 or so members of the Titan research team are thought to have been reassigned to other projects within Alphabet.
Now that Titan has been officially axed, Project Loon instead appears to be the primary focus by Alphabet for providing internet access to remote and poorer parts of the globe. While that project has also undergone technical difficulties, the issues there are not supposed to be insurmountable.
According to Google’s official blog in 2015, the Internet giant had come to an arrangement with three of the biggest mobile operators in Indonesia, to bring Google’s balloon powered Internet to the next stage of development. The experiment, which is still ongoing, hopes to bring the web within reach of 100 million Indonesians who currently have either limited, or no access at all to the web.
Project Loon first unveiled its super pressure internet balloons back in 2013 when it tested the concept by launching over 20 of small balloons in New Zealand. While the original speed was limited to 3G speed, new kit and technological advances have been made that Google expects to offer speeds of around 10 megabits a second.
“Titan was brought into X in late 2015. We ended our exploration of high altitude unmanned aerial vehicles for internet access shortly after,” said a Google statement. “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 belated news of Titan’s 2016 demise comes two days after Bloomberg reported that Alphabet also has plans to sell Terra Bella, its satellite-imaging service.
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