Titan Aerospace has been creating drones full of incredible technology. These machines will be capable of conducting nearly all the same operations as an orbital satellite, but they are cheaper and more versatile. Facebook has been discussing the purchase of Titan Aerospace for $60 million and keeping the drones for a side project, Internet.org, which is focused on giving global web access. The first conclusion most will be jumping to will likely involve suspicion towards privacy and security issues. Michael Toscano, president and CEO of Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, admits that may be a fair concern. However, unlike the usual assumption that Facebook could take advantage of the data, Toscano is more worried about if Facebook will ensure security and whether this new network would be protected from hackers.
However, collecting more personal data is not Mark Zuckerberg’s goal at the moment. TechCrunch referenced one source who that said if talks are successful, Titan would be producing their products only for humanitarian efforts of Internet.org. That company, with primarily Facebook’s support, seeks to reach the Internet to the five billion people who remain without access in developing countries. It is thought Africa will be the starting point for these efforts and the drones will hover in the air creating a network strong enough to handle Facebook apps, which do not require much data transfer. A weak signal is a great place to start. Phone prices are lowering and the rate of ownership is rising, but the cost of the data is what keeps much of the world from being connected.
Google has also made steps to bring these countries online in a reliable way. Their Project Loon has been focusing on using balloons instead. If discussing Facebook’s deal goes well Internet.org, and their drones, could beat Google to it, though, and get a strong hold in global web access for their $60 million. The machines in question are solar-powered and would be connected through the Internet to build a network for data services from an altitude of 65,000 feet. Each drone is equipped with systems able to communicate on 18-mile radius. Which may not be terribly impressive until considering the 11,000 drones the company plans to begin with, according to TechCrunch.
Titan Aerospace refers to the unmanned aerial vehicles as “atmospheric satellites.” They can cruise around 62 miles per hour and can spend five years at their target altitude before needing to refuel. The company says that the machines will be capable of voice and data services, of course, but also global imaging and sensor systems to track the atmosphere.
Using these drones, the world really could see an increase of Internet users from areas that have previously had limited or no access. “It’s feasible.” Toscano said, “Using Titan’s aircraft to provide some form of blanket Internet access would make sense, particularly in Africa.”
However, these discussions raised other concerns about Facebook acquiring these Titan drones because the $60 million deal for global net access may be a step in an unnecessary direction for developing countries. Founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, asked last year how humanitarian can these efforts really be if they have so little to do with human well-being. Essentially, he finds it laughable that this could be considered a serious priority. Gates said, when discussing Internet.org during a CNBC interview, that improving lives should begin at providing health and nutrition for children. He admitted he did love the IT side of the project. However he remained firm that, to him, his malaria vaccine foundation was a key issue, much unlike connectivity and Facebook apps.
By Whitney Hudson