Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has shut down the firm’s project to create solar-powered drones that could provide internet connections to rural areas.
Staff from the Project Titan team, which Google purchased amid competition from Facebook in 2014, were folded into the company’s X research division in early 2016 after it was decided the company would not pursue the drones.
First reported by 9To5Google and later confirmed by the Silicon Valley firm, the decision was taken so X could focus on its efforts to provide internet connectivity by balloon.
“The team from Titan was brought into X in early 2016,” an X spokesperson said. “We ended our exploration of high-altitude UAVs for internet access shortly after”. It is said 50 employees were involved in the process.
Project Titan was created following the acquisition of New Mexico-based Titan Aerospace. At the time Vern Raburn, the drone company’s CEO, said he expected Google to make “some pretty significant investments here.” During the development, The Guardian reported Google was testing 5G technologies to beam connections from the drones.
Ultimately, however, it was not decided to continue with the Titan Project. The X spokesperson said the “economics and technical feasibility” of solar-powered drones was not the best way for the company to provide connectivity to rural or poorly serviced parts of the world.
Instead Google’s efforts are being concentrated on Project Loon. Using giant balloons floating over communities and rural areas at altitudes twice as high as commercial planes, the company hopes to provide a network connection to those without one. In October 2015, it announced a partnership with three mobile carriers in Indonesia to test the technologies in the skies above the country.
While Google doesn’t see itself having a future in solar drone technology, its big competitor does. Facebook is continuing to develop its Aquila drone. Developed in the UK, the drone is designed to circle above areas 60 miles in diameter while cruising at 60,000ft, sending a web connection to Earth.
However, the drone’s first flight in June 2016 didn’t end successfully. Aquila suffered an “in-flight structural failure” causing it to crash on landing as it flew in windy conditions. When the drone was in the air there were no problems and Facebook was happy with its first flight.
Despite Google’s closure of its internet drone project the firm’s efforts within UAVs are continuing in other areas. Project Wing, for drone deliveries, is continuing to refine its testing on six sites in the US.