Facebook’s Drones Could Bring Internet To The Developing World—And Stick It To Mobile Carriers

Adam Pasick | Quartz | March 4, 2014

Facebook is in talks to buy a drone company called Titan Aerospace for $60 million, according to TechCrunch. The New Mexico-based start-up is is developing autonomous solar-powered aircraft that can stay aloft for up to five years at near-orbital heights, which could make them ideal for beaming internet access to remote areas.

This holds an obvious appeal for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who is focused on reaching the two-thirds of humankind who are not yet online. Google is testing a similar internet access program called Project Loon that uses a network of weather balloons, which are currently aloft over the South Pacific.

Titan’s aircraft are still under development, but it hopes to launch its Solara 50 model, which can carry a payload of up to 70 pounds (31.8 kilograms) and has the same wingspan as a Boeing 787, sometime in 2014. The larger Solara 60 can carry up to 250 pounds, and is due in 2015. Flying between 60,000 and 70,000 feet (18,300 and 21,300 meters), well above commercial jet traffic, a single aircraft could provide connectivity over an 18-mile (29 kilometer) radius.