Alphabet Is Killing Off Its Solar Drone Project

Google owner Alphabet’s subsidiary research company, X, has shut down its project aimed at building a solar-powered drone intended to bring internet access to remote areas.

Google purchased Titan Aerospace in 2014. Facebook also reportedly had been interested in buying the U.S. maker of aerial drones. Titan later became part of X, Alphabet’s moonshot lab, in late 2015.

Employees from the Titan team are now working on other efforts such as Project Loon to provide internet access via high-altitude balloons, or Project Wing, which is building delivery drones.

“We ended our exploration of high-altitude UAVs for internet access shortly after (Titan joined X),” an X spokesperson said in a statement. “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.”

In ditching solar-powered drones, X has taken a different stance to rival Facebook, which has gone all-in on the technology with its Aquila project. The Aquila drone, a 130ft-long aircraft developed in Bridgwater, Somerset, is intended to circle in the upper atmosphere, using lasers to broadcast data down to base stations on the ground.

Alphabet is killing off its solar drone project Solar drone

Facebook reported a “successful” test flight for the drone in July 2016, but America’s national transportation safety board later revealed that in fact, the drone was blown off course upon landing, resulting in the end of its wing snapping off. In a follow-up interview with the Verge, Facebook’s Yael Maguire argued that, because the drone had flown perfectly in the air and only suffered damage upon landing, “we feel like we shared 99.9% of the details, from a time perspective.”

X’s Project Loon proposal, achieved its first major milestone back in June 2013, when a New Zealand farmer connected to balloon-powered internet. The system uses advanced weather forecasting to actively navigate by raising and lowering its altitude to select which direction the wind should blow the balloons.