Google's latest acquisition makes it seem a bit Bond villain

Tech companies' acquisitions have been getting increasingly weird. Google's latest, Titan Aerospace, takes the biscuit.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 28 May 2015

Google just announced its latest acquisition: a New Mexico-based aerospace that makes high-altitude drones. For Assange fans, this is the logical conclusion of Google’s bid to take over the world. But the company says it’s for a good cause.

Compared with some of its recent purchases, Titan Aerospace (bought for an undisclosed sum) is pretty small: it has 20 employees, all of whom are engaged in creating solar-powered unmanned aircraft that can fly non-stop without refueling. They’re powered a bit like satellites – only they’re much, much lower in the atmosphere, and their flight paths can be controlled more easily. The idea is they will beam wireless signals to corners of the earth hitherto unconnected to the internet, particularly rural parts of emerging markets.

The acquisition puts Google ahead in its game of philanthropic one-upmanship. Last month Facebook, whose campaign is trying to get internet to emerging economies where access is patchy, bought Ascenta, a UK-based company that makes drones. Which, in turn, was presumably supposed to compete with Google’s appropriately-titled Project Loon (short for ‘balloon’, rather than an acknowledgement Larry Page had finally gone gaga with power), which builds balloons that beam wifi signals to the ground.

It’s also another sign the giants of Silicon Valley – which have, until recently, focused mainly on software – are becoming ever more interested in hardware. Over the past few months Google has bought Nest, which connects devices like fridges and thermostats to the internet, while Facebook has bought Oculus VR, which makes a virtual reality helmet.

In many ways, it’s them taking bets on how we will consume the internet in the future. But much more of this, and investors will start to get nervous. They aren’t startups any more. They can’t just go round buying up tech firms willy-nilly…

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