Google parent Alphabet’s semi-secret X division has quietly killed off Project Titan, a drone initiative that the company had once touted as offering a new way to deliver or boost Internet connectivity in remote, poorly served and disaster areas.
Members of Titan Aerospace, a drone manufacturer that Google acquired in 2014 to enable the effort, have been absorbed by X and reassigned to other projects, a spokeswoman from X said this week.
The personnel changes began in 2015 and continued through early 2016, but are being reported only now.
“The team from Titan was brought into X in late 2015,” the spokeswoman said. “We ended our exploration of high altitude [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles] for Internet access shortly after.”
X has not entirely abandoned its plans to deliver Internet services using cell towers floating in the sky. But instead of using drones as it had planned to with Project Titan the focus now is on Project Loon, a separate and ongoing initiative involving the use of high-altitude hot air balloons.
“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,” the spokeswoman said. “Many people from the Titan team are now using their expertise as part of other high flying projects at X, including Loon and Project Wing”, she said referring to yet another X initiative involving the use of drones for commercial package delivery services.
Google announced Project Titan at the Mobile World Conference in March 2015 about one year after it had purchased Titan Aerospace.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who at that time was a senior vice president at the company, had described the effort as complimentary to its Project Loon balloon-powered Internet delivery system.
“These are floating cell towers but instead of balloons we use very lightweight solar powered airplanes flying in the sky,” Pichai had noted. “You can imagine a constellation of balloons and planes, which we can stitch together to create this mesh of floating cell towers.”
The Titan drones, Pichai had claimed, could help quickly supplement Internet services where needed, he had said. At the time, Pichai predicted Google would begin first drone flights in 2015.
Since then, the X division has been spun off from Google and is now an independent unit under Alphabet. The decision to pull the plug on Titan appears to have been taken during the Alphabet restructuring.
Since Alphabet was created, many of the moonshot projects that Google launched as a single entity have come under scrutiny especially those that have been bleeding money or have struggled to come to fruition. The moonshot projects are collectively lumped together under a category that Alphabet calls “Other Bets” and include businesses such as X, Fiber, Calico and Nest.
Many of these businesses are under pressure to perform under the new structure and Alphabet has indicated that it will drop or scale back projects if they don’t pan out as expected.
Last year for instance, Alphabet abruptly changed direction on its Fiber broadband initiative and is now focused on delivering the service using lower cost point-to-point wireless technology rather than fiber as it had originally planned.