In 2014, Google and Facebook Inc. vied to acquire Titan Aerospace, a maker of high-altitude, solar-powered drones. Google won the bidding, so Facebook purchased its own company, which was building a huge glider called Aquila.
The idea was to beam internet access from the sky to get more people logging on from remote places to access information and probably use both companies’ web services. That soaring vision has come down to Earth with a bump.
On Wednesday, a spokeswoman from Google parent Alphabet Inc.’s X research lab said it had shut down Titan. This happened in early 2016, she said, although confirmation didn’t come until earlier today, when technology blog 9to5Google reported the move.
The team from Titan was brought into X in late 2015, and the research lab ended its exploration of high-altitude drones for internet access shortly after, the X spokeswoman said in a statement.
Facebook has also struggled. Its Aquila drone crashed during a test flight in June, sparking an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. That was the latest hiccup in Facebook’s plans to wirelessly connect the world, following an explosion earlier in 2016 that destroyed one of its satellites and political resistance to its free services in India.
Alphabet canceled Titan because of economic and technical challenges. Project Loon, another X project to beam internet from high-altitude balloons, is still going. So is Project Wing, an effort to use drones for deliveries, rather than internet service.
"By comparison, at this stage the economics and technical feasibility of Project Loon present a much more promising way to connect rural and remote parts of the world," the X spokeswoman said on Wednesday. "Many people from the Titan team are now using their expertise as part of other high flying projects at X, including Loon and Project Wing."
Project Wing is facing its own challenges. In the fall of 2016, several Wing employees were asked to find other projects at Alphabet after X pulled back on some of its drone delivery plans.
By Mark Bergen