As Megan recently reported, Titan Aerospace's unmanned solar planes (the word 'drone' is so closely associated with military uses nowadays that I'm consciously using something a little bit less charged since Titan's planes are designed for civilian use) were rumored to be of interest to Facebook. Why would the social network need planes that can stay up in the air for 5 years or more at a time? In Mark Zuckerberg's words: "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.”
But either Facebook was too slow or wouldn't open its wallet wide enough (which would be surprising, considering that they bought Whatsapp for 19 billion dollars...), but either way, Google swooped in and acquired Titan, adding the pilotless planes to its fleet of driverless cars and other various robots.The terms of the deal weren't disclosed, so we don't know how much Google paid for or if it was cash, stock, or a mix of both.
The Titan Aerospace does fit very well in Google plans to bring internet access to the world. They already revealed some plans about how that could be done with balloons, but why not solar planes? They could fly in circle around an area at high altitude and act as a kind of low-cost and easily upgradeable satellite.
But this isn't the only thing that might have attracted Google to the deal. Titan's planes can also provide high-resolution images of the earth (useful for Google Earth and Maps), navigation and mapping services (Google Maps, Android) and atmospheric-based monitoring systems.
Many of these things are likely to be useful to help us better understand (and protect) our planet, in the same way that many scientists and conservationists have been using Google Earth. Hopefully Google sends a few planes over protected areas to try to catch poachers and polluters...
Here's a Bloomberg segment on the Titan-Google deal: