Project Titan, Google’s most moonshotty of moonshots, has officially been cancelled…
Google likes to dream big – and it didn’t dream much bigger than Project Titan, which which would have seen enormous, solar-powered drones launched into the sky in order to broadcast internet access down to the Earth’s surface.
The project is now officially over, leaving 50 engineers assigned to it at a loose end. Others, though, have been moved to Alphabet’s Project Loon – broadcasting internet access from balloons – or to Project Wing – an automated, drone delivery project (which can be seen delivering a burrito here).
Bought by Google in 2014, Titan previously ran into trouble when a UAV, comparable to the size of a Boeing 747, crashed during an early test flight in New Mexico in 2015.
Facebook has a similar project underway which has faced similar problems of its own. At the conclusion of its first flight, the Aquila craft hit an updraft while landing. This caused the UAV’s autopilot to lose control, before crashing into the ground at 25 knots (roughly 30 mph), incurring “substantial damage” and “structural failure”. Facebook nevertheless described the flight as a success – which raised some eyebrows.
Jacquelyn Miller, at X, Alphabet’s moonshot division, said: “The team from Titan was brought into X in late 2015. 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.”
Titan isn’t the only one of Alphabet’s moonshots on the rocks, however. The moonshots are costing the company close to $1bn a year and, since restructuring itself as Alphabet, Google has a lot less tolerance for expensive bets that may not pay off. Boston Dynamics – builder of humanoid and quadruped robots – is up for sale; Alphabet’s standalone self-driving car has dramatically changed shape; and Google Fiber – delivering super fast broadband – has been paused in 10 US cities. Let’s just hope that Google can continue to dream big.