Facebook is in talks to purchase drone manufacturer Titan Aerospace, TechCrunch reports, all part of the social networking company's plan to bring the Internet to the whole world.
Facebook hopes to send about 11,000 of the company's drone models into the air to then beam down Internet access to the world's approximately five billion unconnected people. Titan Aerospace produces unmanned high-flying drones that function much like orbital satellites, but at a fraction of the price. Facebook is said to be specifically interested in Titan's solar panel-covered Solara 50 and 60 drones, which store solar energy during the day and can remain aloft for up to five years before needing to refuel or land: "Atmospheric parking," as the company calls it. The drones' constant roving could be used to build regular Internet access in rural areas, including Africa.
The move fits in with the Facebook-led Internet.org initiative, which has the lofty ambition to provide the rest of the world with free Internet access. That may not save mankind, as Bill Gates cautioned, but it would make a big difference and could, down the road, put some money back in Facebook's pocket. And as Facebook's WhatsApp purchase showed, the company has been looking beyond it's own website and apps to other means of expanding its reach.
For comparison, Google's similarly-minded Project Loon program relies on helium-filled balloons traversing the Earth's atmosphere to provide Internet access. Propelled by wind currents, the balloons beam down Internet to those with access, but they only last for 100 days. That's a far cry from Facebook's plan of five-year drones, but it's surely much cheaper to build and use.