Titan Aerospace's Solara, a solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicle designed to cruise at an altitude of 20 km (12.42 miles) for five years at a time, certainly got our attention back in August, and it appears to have not gone unnoticed by some of tech's bigger players either. Facebook is reportedly in talks to acquire the company with a view to using the drones as a means of providing internet access to the world's under-served regions.
According to Techcrunch, Facebook is currently in talks with Titan Aerospace regarding an acquisition that would come at a cost of US$60 million to the internet giant. If it does eventuate, Facebook would then set about constructing 11,000 of Titan's aerial drones, more specifically its Solara 60 model.
With a wingspan that measures 60 ft (197 feet) across and has a payload capacity of up to 100 kg (250 lb), these high-altitude unmanned aircraft are designed to function as atmospheric satellites. Around 3,000 solar cells fitted to the upper wing and tail surfaces of the vehicle see it generate up to seven kilowatts of power during the daytime, with lithium-ion batteries storing energy to keep it running through the night, a cycle that sustains its altitude for five years without it needing to land.
With a range of 4.5 million kms (2.8 million miles) and a cruising speed of 104 km/h (65 mph), the Solara's functions could include anything from crop monitoring to surveillance, or in this scenario, delivering internet access to remote parts of the planet.
Techcrunch reports however, that if the acquisition does go ahead, Titan Aerospace's vehicles would be produced exclusively for the purposes of the Internet.org project project. This initiative is backed by a consortium of tech giants such as Ericsson, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung among others, with the central focus being to bring internet access to the two thirds of the population that is currently without.
Speaking at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last Monday, Facebook CEO Mark Zukerberg said, "In the US we have 911 to get basic services. Similarly, we want to create a basic dial tone for the Internet. Basic messaging, basic Web information, basic social networking.”