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Google Parent Alphabet Says No To Internet-Beaming Drones

January 11, 2017, 8:44 PM UTC
A Google logo and Android statue are seen at the Googleplex in Menlo Park, California on November 4, 2016. / AFP / JOSH EDELSON
Photograph by Josh Edelson—AFP/Getty Images

Google parent company Alphabet has shuttered a project to send drones aloft that would beam wireless Internet access to Earth.

More than 50 people were part of Alphabet’s Titan Internet drone project, according to the tech publication 9to5 Google, which first reported the news. A spokesperson for X, Alphabet’s (GOOG) research arm in charge of drone projects, told Fortune that many of those workers have moved to other X projects like its drone delivery initiative and Project Loon, which is focused on using huge solar-powered balloons to beam the Internet people below.

“The team from Titan was brought into X in late 2015,” the spokesperson said in an email. “We ended our exploration of high altitude UAVs for Internet access shortly after. 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.“

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The roots of the Titan project stem from Google’s 2014 acquisition of drone maker Titan Aerospace for an undisclosed amount. The project’s goal was to provide Internet access in places where web connectivity is scant or non-existent worldwide, particularly in rural and poor areas.

Ultimately, Facebook (FB) bought a similar U.K.-based company Ascenta and incorporated its technology and staff into a competing drone-powered Internet-delivery project. Over the summer, Facebook’s project suffered a setback when one of its test flights crash-landed in the Arizona desert, leading to a National Transportation Safety Board investigation.

That accident echoed a similar one in May 2015 involving one of X’s Titan drones that crashed in New Mexico during a test flight.

With X shuttering its Internet-beaming drone project, Project Loon appears to be Alphabet’s main push to provide Internet access from the air. But even that project has experienced some difficulties.

In June, Space Data Corporation, an Arizona-based technology company, sued Alphabet over allegations that it stole Space Data’s trade secrets related to using giant balloons to deliver Internet access. Space Data seeks an unspecified amount of money in the case and wants the court to stop Alphabet from using what Space Data claims is its “confidential and trade secret information.”

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The 9to5 Google report Alphabet ending the Titan Internet drone project comes as Alphabet also cuts back on its Project Wing drone delivery initiative. The company has cut staff and implemented a hiring freeze amid the departures of two top leaders, according to reports by Bloomberg News and The Wall Street Journal.