Facebook's drone strategy: Delivering Internet access from the air?

It seems like every Internet company needs a drone strategy these days.  Just a few months after Amazon announced it was working on using unmanned aircraft for package delivery, word surfaced on Tuesday that Facebook is in talks to buy drone-maker Titan Aerospace.

But if true, it sounds like Facebook’s drone initiative more closely resembles a “moon shot” project that Google has been working on – involving the use of airborne transmitters to provide Internet access for underserved parts of the world.

TechCrunch broke the story that Facebook is in talks to buy Titan for $60 million, in connection with Mark Zuckerberg’s goal of improving Internet access across the globe, through his Internet.org alliance with a handful of other industry players.  Citing unnamed sources, TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez and Josh Constine write that the drone strategy calls for deploying 11,000 unmanned aerial vehicles, which would act as solar-powered “atmospheric satellites” that could provide communications links to vast swaths of the earth.

If that idea sounds familiar, it’s because Google’s Project Loon is taking a similar approach but involves deploying a fleet of high-altitude balloons bearing communications gear. As we’ve reported, Google has already tested its balloons in New Zealand and in California’s Central Valley.

Facebook hasn’t announced any deal. In response to a request for comment, a spokesman said, “We don’t comment on rumors and speculation.”  But CNBC is also reporting that an unnamed source has provided similar details.

Meanwhile, skeptics have suggested that Amazon’s drone announcement in December was aimed more at garnering publicity than developing a real delivery service.  But as the Merc’s Pat May just reported, interest in commercial drones is booming all over Silicon Valley.

(Image courtesy of Titan Aerospace)

Brandon Bailey Brandon Bailey (329 Posts)

Brandon Bailey covers Google, Facebook and Yahoo for the San Jose Mercury News, reporting on the business and culture of the Internet.