At Mobile World Congress this morning, Google’s Sundar Pichai said that Titan, the drone company Google acquired in April of 2014, would be conducting its first test flight later this year. Google bought the company after it was widely reported Facebook had made an offer. Both were interested in the drone’s ability to stay aloft for long periods of time with little energy and to carry a payload capable of providing internet connectivity to people down below.
Pichai says Titan is about where Project Loon, Google high altitude balloons, was a couple of years ago. The Titan team is building a new type of super lightweight solar-powered airplane that would be capable of hovering in one area of the stratosphere. This could provide a way to beam internet down to a targeted area on the ground below, supplement existing services with extra bandwidth, or providing access in an area that’s suddenly offline, like after an earthquake or other disaster.
Loon and Titan could complement each other, providing what Pichai described as a mesh of flying cell towers circling overhead. While the balloons can be tricky to steer and cover a wide area, Titan aircraft could be maneuvered to provide capacity to particular areas based on demand. In both instances, Google’s plan is to partner with carriers to provide overlapping service to people on the ground so that they don’t have to worry about exactly where it’s coming from. Pichai said the hope is to begin connecting some of the roughly 4 billion people on earth who currently don’t have reliable internet access.