Google, Amazon, and Facebook Eye an Aerial Robotics Revolution

Google and Facebook are snapping up companies that can put robots in the skies and cover the globe with Internet signal. Amazon wants drones delivering groceries to your door. Robotics is about to change the world.

Apr 19, 2014 at 1:45PM

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The robotics revolution is under way. Exactly what form it will take in the next decade remains unclear; however, it is almost certain that robots will play an increasingly greater role in the day-to-day life of the average person. Companies like iRobot are already selling products designed to perform basic chores and make automatons a common household item. Not surprisingly, acquisition-happy Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) looks to be a major player in bringing commercial and industrial robots to the forefront.

The company has acquired a number of robotics firms during the last year, and will likely continue to snatch up companies with the ability to assist in its goals. What exactly those goals are remains somewhat shrouded in mystery, but robotics will receive a major push from the Internet giant. Adding to the company's stable of assets, Google recently acquired drone maker Titan Aerospace. What does this purchase mean for Google and the robot revolution?

Flying robots, global mapping, and self-driving cars
Titan Aerospace made a name for itself through the production of high-flying drones that could stay airborne for several years before needing maintenance. Its drones feature wing-mounted solar panels that provide enough power to keep the flying robots in the air for prolonged periods of time. Access to the sun is never a problem because the unmanned machines are designed to operate above the cloud barrier. Titan's wares fit into several ongoing Google initiatives.

The drone's photography capabilities could be of great use in Google's ongoing mapping projects. Less than a year ago, the company acquired social-mapping and traffic innovator Waze for approximately $1 billion. It's possible that Titan's drones could be integrated into a reworked version of the Waze technology. The potential benefits of this pairing extend far beyond traffic and route imaging, however.

The promise of global Internet access
The unmanned aerial crafts might also be used to provide Internet to areas that would not otherwise have a connection. The Waze app revolves around user engagement, and ubiquitous Internet would guarantee that relevant data and feedback could almost always be translated. Using drones to provide universal Internet access could also be a boon to Google's self-driving car project. While the use of Titan's drones could benefit a variety of ongoing Google initiatives, the promise inherent to covering the globe in a usable wireless signal is likely the biggest reason for Google's push into the sky.



Google must extend global access to the Internet if the company hopes to continue its incredible growth. Google received 187 million unique U.S. desktop visits in the month of February. The whole of the Internet received approximately 220 million unique views in the same time frame. Given the extreme breadth of content and websites available that Internet users have the option of accessing, Google's web presence is incredibly impressive; but it has reached the point of saturation. Facebook's (NASDAQ:FB) states that two out of every three people do not have access to the web. For Google, reaching those people represents the most surefire way of achieving massive growth.

Amazon is serious about bringing delivery drones to your home
Google is hardly alone in its push to fill the world's skies with flying robots. Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) made big news last year when it revealed that it was developing aerial drones for use in delivering goods to customers. CEO Jeff Bezos recently doubled down the company's commitment to making delivery drones an everyday reality in his annual letter to shareholders.

The company's PrimeAir team is now testing its fifth and sixth generation delivery drones, with the seventh and eighth generation flyers in the development phase. The ongoing push received a significant boost in March, when a court ruling struck down FAA regulations prohibiting unmanned flying commercial vehicles in U.S. airspace.

Will Facebook soon compete with mobile carriers?
The other big player in covering the globe with Internet looks to be Facebook. The social networking company faces the same saturation issues that Google must contend with, and has announced plans to introduce aerial Internet that closely mirrors what the search and data giant has under way.

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Facebook had eyed Titan Aerospace for a purchase before Google completed its deal, having reportedly offered somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 million. Instead, the company recently completed a $20 million purchase of Ascenta, which specializes in drone projects very similar to those of Titan Aerospace. The Internet beamed down from Facebook's drones could be used in conjunction with WhatsApp's voice and messaging services, potentially eliminating the need for dedicated phone carriers.

Heads in the clouds...
The Internet's biggest players are looking to the skies in hopes of kicking off the next technological and communications revolutions. Google has plenty of long-shot projects in the works that will never reach commercial maturity; but don't count the company's robotics and aerial Internet pushes among them. You've got Google, Amazon, and Facebook suggesting that some of the biggest breakthroughs on the horizon will arrive courtesy of flying robots. Having three of the four biggest Internet companies aligned in that vision is a great indicator that it will soon become reality.

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Keith Noonan has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends, Facebook, and Google-Class C Shares. The Motley Fool owns shares of, Facebook, and Google-Class C Shares. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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