UPDATE: 03/29/2014 The headline remains the same but the players have changed. Instead of Titan Aerospace being acquired for $60 million, Facebook chose to acquire a small UK start-up with great talent, Ascenta, for $20 million.
TechCrunch first revealed that Facebook was in talks to acquire or partner with Titan Aerospace. Titan makes solar-powered aerial robots that can fly for up to five years without needing to land. In a 03/07/2014 update, Forbes confirmed that $60 million was the amount being discussed as the acquition price.
Facebook has repeatedly stated that they want to bring affordable Internet access to those portions of the world which still lack connectivity.
According to the Financial Times, Facebook instead acquired the 5-person team behind Ascenta for just under $20 million.
- Andrew Cox, CEO and CTO of Ascenta, has a long history in unmanned aerial projects including helping Qinetiq start its Zephyr drone program, worked on the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, and with Flying Pictures – a company that provided aerial filming for all the Harry Potter movies and 14 James Bond films.
- Another member of the Ascenta team, Nigel Gifford, was part of Richard Branson's project to fly around the world in a hot-air baloon, and has skydived from 29,500 ft near Mt Everest. “It's true to say that we have a background in high-altitude avaiation adventure,” Mr. Gifford said to the FT. “We are not mainstream people in aerospace.”
Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the acquisition of Ascenta as his latest contribution to the Internet.org's Connectivity Lab. That lab is charged with providing solutions to bring affordable access to the 60% of the world's populations not presently using the Internet. Facebook, as does the Internet.org, also has a Connectivity Lab.
Google last year announced a similar project, Project Loon, one of their moon shots from the GoogleX Lab. Their idea is to build a ring of balloons flying around the globe in stratospheric winds to provide Internet access to the earth below.
Titan Aerospace calls their aerial robots High Altitude Long Endurance Solar Atmospheric Satellites. At present they have flown demonstrations to prove their technology and plan to begin commercial operations in 2015 – they are looking for funding at present.