In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S.-based Web giant's bid to bring Internet to the whole world.
Even as it experiments with self-driving cars on the ground, Google has been acquiring companies that manufacture pilotless flying vehicles -- aircraft that can stay aloft for very long periods of time, such as solar-powered balloons and drones.
The Internet giant aims to bring Web access to remote areas of the world, which it says could help speed disaster relief or monitor environmental damage. And it says atmospheric satellites could also provide high-resolution aerial images for its Google Earth service.
Its newest acquisition, the 20-employee, New Mexico-based company Titan Aerospace, plans to manufacture a larger version of its successful solar-powered drone Solara.
Chief Technical Officer, Maximus Yaney, says it will be as efficient as a satellite, but much less expensive to operate -- just one-hundredth of the cost.
"What we're focusing on from a capability perspective is being able to provide these kinds of services as an alternate or adding to satellite platform capabilities," he said.
He says the new drone, Solara 50, will be able to fly almost 20 km above the earth, providing the Internet signal in a radius of almost 420 km... and stay aloft for almost five years.
"Solar-powered, you have the capability of staying up there effectively indefinitely, you're simply limited by the rechargeable batteries," he said.
Other technology companies are also interested in the potential of drones. Earlier this year, Internet-based giant Facebook acquired the British drone manufacturer Ascenta, while the Internet retail company Amazon is experimenting with drones for package deliveries.