Breakout

'Drone Wars' taking off as tech giants fight on new battleground

Breakout

“These aren't the drones that you're looking for…” or so one imagines Larry Page and Sergey Brin whispering into the ears of Facebook (FB) founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Google (GOOG) confirmed on Monday that it had swooped in and acquired drone-maker Titan Aerospace, a company Facebook was reportedly interested in acquiring.

Although Facebook ended up buying U.K. based drone start-up Ascenta, the turf war for drone supremacy is just taking off. Led by their visionary founders, both tech giants are taking to the skies to plant their company’s flags. It’s all about reaching an estimated five billion people worldwide who need access to the Internet, and thus capturing more information and getting in front of ever more eyeballs.

Access and Information

“The main reason [for the acquisition] is to provide Internet access to places that have limited access, another reason is to help with Google Maps and Google Earth for satellite images,” says Joe Fahmy of Zor Capital in the attached video. “But what I admire is whether they use this a day, or ten years from now or never, Google is trying to stay ahead of the competition with Facebook.”

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Titan and Ascenta build high-altitude drones, massive glider-like aircraft that fly near the edge of the earth’s atmosphere, and can stay airborne for days, weeks, months or maybe even years, fueled by renewable energy sources like solar power. For Facebook, the draw is to use drones to beam out wireless web access as part of its connectivity lab project. Google’s desire is to use drones in conjunction with Project Loon, an initiative that’s focusing on using large helium balloons to bring Internet access to remote parts of the world. In the eyes of Zuckerberg, Brin and Page, the slow-moving and monopsonistic mobile carriers will not be the ones bringing access to these poorer regions of the world. Facebook and Google know where their biggest growth areas are, and they will be aggressive in gaining the upper hand to reach these users.

Privacy issues aside, Fahmy notes information is king for companies that are looking for innovative ways to connect marketers with people. “Google is all about gathering information, same thing with Facebook,” he says. “You think, ‘what does this have to do with their core advertising business,‘ but it’s just another source of information,” Fahmy observes, ostensibly for them to provide users with more relevant advertising, whether delivered to you via mobile, geo-located for relevancy, or even brought to you in a virtual world.

The Next Platform

And that’s where the next battlefield will be set. Once convenient, affordable Internet access is available to almost every man, woman and child on earth, the next battleground for supremacy will be the platform. Microsoft (MSFT) dominated desktop, Apple and Google (via iOS and Android, respectively) are winning mobile thus far, and now technology companies are eying once-derided virtual reality as the next emerging platform.

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Oculus Rift VR goggles

Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift was a major step, but this only follows years of R&D that Google has invested into Google Glass, its wearable, augmented reality eyeglasses that are on sale today, and only today, to the general public. Sony has confirmed development of its own VR technology for the PlayStation 4, dubbed Project Morpheus, and one can only presume Microsoft’s Entertainment Devices division is working on a Kinect version as well.

As more and more people around the globe are connecting to the Internet, it will be those companies who control access, as well as the preferred platform of choice, that will reap the lion’s share of profit in the industry.

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