Google buys solar-powered drone company Titan Aerospace

Just a month after word came that Facebook was interested in the 20-person drone maker, Google snatches it up for an undisclosed sum.



An artist rendering of a Titan Aerospace Solera 50 drone.Titan Aerospace

Technology companies are expanding beyond the Net and taking to the skies — literally, with solar-powered drones that will beam broadband Internet access to the developing world, which houses growing numbers of newly minted Web users these companies want desperately to get their hands on.

Facebook recently purchased Ascenta, a UK-based startup that makes solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — or simply called drones — for $20 million. Now, Google has entered the fray, purchasing drone maker Titan Aerospace for an undisclosed sum, according to a posting on Titan’s now barebones Web site: “We’re thrilled to announce that Titan Aerospace is joining Google.”

In fact, Google scooped up the roughly 20-person startup, based in New Mexico and headed up by former Symantec CEO Vern Raburn, after it was widely reported that Facebook was interested in buying it.

Raburn will stay in charge of Titan Aerospace, Google told The Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the acquisition. His team will work closely with Google’s Project Loon, the outlandish initiative — born out of Google’s in-house “moon shot” facility Google X that brought us Glass and the self-driving car — to deliver Internet via air balloon. The drone company says it expects “initial commercial operations” to start in 2015.

Titan Aerospace, similar to Facebook-owned competitor Ascenta, is developing two insect-like drones — the smaller of the two with a wingspan a tad larger than a Boeing 767 — with wing-mounted solar panels that will power the aircraft’s batteries to keep it afloat at night. The aircraft, which will fly as high as 12 miles in the sky, are expected to have a long-term aerial lifespan of five years.


An artist rendering of the Solera 50, the smaller of two Titan Aerospace drones that — with a wingspan of 164 feet — will be slightly larger than a Boeing 767. Titan Aerospace

The drones’ primary function will be to help send Internet to places without a current connection at speeds as high as 1 gigabit per second, which — matching the speeds of fiber-delivered Internet — outranks many developed countries. The US averages only 7.2 megabits per second as of 2014, according to the most recent Akamai “State of the Internet” report.

Titan Aerospace also will be outfitting its drones with imaging technology that could bolster the efforts of other Google initiatives like Maps. This includes high-resolution imaging of the Earth, alongside atmospheric sensors and other satellite-provided cellular functions like data and voice call connection.

“It’s still early days for the technology we’re developing,” in particular “atmospheric satellites,” Titan said on its Web site. “There are a lot of ways that we think we could help people, whether it’s providing Internet connections in remote areas or helping monitor environmental damage like oil spills and deforestation.”

Beyond the seemingly humanitarian-geared goals of creating a satellite network of drones lies the next big technology arms race: turning the citizens of developing countries all over the world into not only active Web users, but consumers of products from the very same companies bringing them online. Google has Android and its slew of low-cost handsets that run on it to help in that effort, while Facebook has been working to make its social network function in areas of limited data connectivity bycreating a text-only version.

For Facebook, the plan is to ultimately create more users of its social network. For Google, it’s a more visible cycle of creating new users of its products and services and search engine, which drives advertising revenue that gets funneled back into projects like Loon that facilitate greater access to the Internet that, in turn, creates new users in the Google ecosystem.

From here on out, the battle between tech giants is no longer just over your smartphone and its OS, your search engine of choice, or the destination of your online social life’s most valuable, ad-targeted assets. The fight has gone to space, and it’s not likely to remain so uncrowded as more and more large corporations start snatching up companies like Titan Aerospace and Ascenta in the future.

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Here’s Amazon’s phone: six cameras and a 4.7-inch screen


Rumors of an Amazon-made phone are nothing new, but today the rumors enter reality more firmly: what you see above is what BGR claims is the Amazon’s first phone. “Whoa, that’s super ugly!” you might be saying. Cool it, that’s just an enclosure around the device itself preventing prying eyes (like our own) from seeing the actual design. The good news is we can still learn a few things about the device without the enclosure removed: five cameras up front (reportedly a sixth out back) and a trio of buttons along the left side handle power and volume. The screen is reportedly of the 4.7-inch variety — which lines upwith previous rumors — and puts Amazon’s first phone on the same scale as Motorola’s Moto X (among others).

Before we move on, we should probably address that whole six cameras thing, huh? Well, the rear one is a standard phone camera for taking photos, and apparently one of the five on the front is also just a standard camera. The four other face cameras, though, are apparently for something especially unique: the phone’s 3D interface. All those cameras reportedly enable the phone to track the position of your head and where you’re looking, thus enabling glasses-free 3D from any angle. BGR says the four face cams are low-power infrared sensors.

So, what’s powering that effect besides cameras? 2GB of RAM and an unnamed Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, apparently. Rather than going 1080p, the handset is also said to push 720p (also similar to the Moto X).

If that’s not enough, the report also says that a less flashy, more affordable version will arrive this year as well. That’s two Amazon phones potentially leaked without Amazon acknowledging or even teasing either. Don’t expect shock on our faces when an ambiguous event invite shows up in the next few weeks.

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‘Flappy Bird’ Creator: I Might Bring It Back

by Samantha Murphy Kelly


For those still mourning the loss of the highly addictive Flappy Bird mobile game that was pulled from app stores just last month, creator Dong Nguyen said he’s “considering” bringing it back.

In an in-depth interview with Rolling Stone, Nguyen said there is a chance he could release it once again: “I’m considering it.”

The publication met with the man who mysteriously removed the app, despite it bringing in a reported $55,000 in ad revenue each day. Although the app launched in May 2013, it became an overnight sensation in February as it climbed to the top of Apple’s App Store and Google Play for Android.

But the stresses of success had gotten to its creator. There were rumors he might be sued by Nintendo. He received death threats, couldn’t eat and even contemplated suicide. This led him to send a series of tweets on Feb. 8 warning that he was going to remove the app in just 22 hours. Fans pleaded with him to keep it available, but by the next day, the app was no longer in either store.

In response to a question about how he felt after removing the app, Nguyen responded: 


“Relief. I can’t go back to my life before, but I’m good now.”

Although Nguyen said he isn’t working on a new version of the game and is turning down offers to sell it, he would bring back the original release but with a specific “warning” to “please take a break.”

Fans of Flappy Bird who downloaded the app before it was pulled are still generating tens of thousands of dollars for him, according to the report. He quit his job and is developing new games, such as a flying game called Kitty Jetpack and a “action chess game” called Checkonaut due out this month.

Some believe Flappy Bird was so popular because it is so frustrating to play. The concept of the game is to keep a bird afloat by tapping it through a series of obstacles. It’s designed to be simple but, in practice, the task is extremely difficult.

Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.

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Mozilla reveals an adaptive Android home screen built around Firefox


Firefox Launcher for Android

We hope you haven’t had your fill of adaptive Android home screens, because Mozilla is throwing its hat into the increasingly crowded ring. The company has just offered a sneak peek at Firefox Launcher for Android, a front end that revolves around its mobile browser. The upcoming software mates Firefox withEverythingMe’s context-sensitive app search, personalizing both your web surfing and your software in one shot. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait a while to know exactly how this combination works; Mozilla doesn’t plan to reveal more details about Firefox Launcher until it’s ready to start beta testing at an unspecified point in the future.

SOURCE: Mozilla

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Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Google and Microsoft disclose new data about number of NSA requests received


FILE PHOTO  NSA Compiles Massive Database Of Private Phone Calls

FacebookLinkedInYahooGoogle, and Microsoft have all released new data about the national security requests they’ve received. Under new rules from the US government, each company is now allowed to provide how many requests for member data it’s received, the number of accounts impacted, and the percentage that they respond to.

With regards to Facebook, it says that within the last six months of 2012, only a “small fraction” of one percent of its users were the target of any government data requests, national security-related or otherwise. In the first half of 2013, the company again said that the total volume of requests was a small fraction of one percent.

Unknown 1 730x105 Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Google and Microsoft disclose new data about number of NSA requests received

In LinkedIn’s case, it has updated its transparency report to indicate that for the first six months of 2013, the professional social network company received “between 0 and 249″ national security-related requests.

Microsoft says that during the same time period, it received “fewer than 1,000″ FISA orders that sought the disclosure of customer content, which related to between 15,000 and 15,999 accounts. It stresses that this doesn’t necessarily mean more than 15,000 accounts were covered by the government requests though. Additionally, the company received fewer than 1,000 FISA orders for non-content data only, requesting information relating to fewer than 1,000 accounts. Lastly, Microsoft states it has received fewer than 1,000 National Security Letters covering fewer than 1,000 accounts.

Yahoo has also updated the global transparency report it launched back in 2013, showing that the number of accounts requested by governments amounted to less than “one one-hundredth of one percent” of its worldwide user base for the reporting period.

Screen Shot 2014 02 03 at 10.44.56 AM Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Google and Microsoft disclose new data about number of NSA requests received

Not to be outdone, Google has also released its own data that shows that it has received less than 1,000 requests for national security or content from governments from January 2009 to June 2013. It has published the complete table below showing a breakdown of requests and the number of users and accounts affected.

Screen Shot 2014 02 03 at 9.59.12 AM 730x700 Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Google and Microsoft disclose new data about number of NSA requests received

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel and executive vice president for legal and corporate affairs, says that the US government has agreed to allow companies to share this information, but only that it can be reported “in bands of a thousand”. What’s more, while the aggregate FISA data covers a six month period, it can only be published six months after the reporting period.

Last year, after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden published details about the US agency’s surveillance program “Prism”, tech companies immediatelywent on the defensive to deny accusations that they had provided server access to the government. Some went to court to get the government’s permission to help release some data to help them become more transparent, but were denied.

However, last week, President Obama’s administration decided to relax some rules as it seeks to reform the way it conducts surveillance around the world. Naturally, because of this action, lawsuits from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook have been dropped, but comes with a stipulation: tech companies are prohibited from revealing information about government requests for two years.

US Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said at the time: “Permitting disclosure of this aggregate data addresses an important area of concern to communications providers and the public.” However, not everyone shares in the sentiment — the New York Times saysprivacy advocates fear this new rule will prevent the public from knowing if their government is spying on an email platform or chat service.

Since revelations about Prism were made public, tech companies like Google andMicrosoft have added new features and protocols to better protect user data from the NSA.

All of the companies have said they will be updating their transparency reports every six months so the public is aware of any government activity on its servers, but that it will also comply with the NSA rules that restrict when specific data can be revealed.

Photo credit: NSA via Getty Images

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Chromecast SDK now available for iOS developers


Google announced today a public SDK for Chromecast allowing developers to build support for casting into Android, Chrome, and iOS apps and websites.

If you’re a developer looking to bring your content to the big screen, head on over to the Google Developers Blog for a deep dive into the nuts and bolts of it all. Meanwhile, for everyone else, a current list of apps that work with Chromecast can be found at

The Chromecast currently supports a number of content streaming services including Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Pandora, YouTube, and more.

Google introduced support for Plex, Vevo, Songza and more last December shortly after introducing a Chromecast section to the Google Play Store.

Today’s announcement likely means support for a lot more services from networks and independent providers as developers can build in support on Android, Chrome, and iOS apps and websites independently.

Chromecast SDK is now open to all developers, look forward to all the new apps coming

(@sundarpichai) February 03, 2014

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Adobe Photoshop Veteran John Nack Moves To Google To Work On Digital Photo Team

by  (@panzer)

Adobe’s John Nack is leaving the company after 14 years to work at Google. Nack was on the Photoshop team for 8 years, working on features like Camera Raw, Smart Objects and Adobe Bridge. He’s been acting as Principal Product Manager at Adobe since then, focusing on its mobile app efforts like Photoshop for tablets.

In a blog post, Nack says he’s moving over to Google to work on its digital photography team. This is a fairly big coup for Google as Nack has a deep knowledge of what makes Photoshop tick and has acted as an evangelist for the editing suite and its community for years.

“Merlin Mann once asked me, “What do you want ten times more of?” I knew the answer: Impact. I’m so proud of the impact I’ve had at Adobe,” says Nack. “From Smart Objects to Photoshop’s first-ever public beta* to countless little tweaks over the years (“I swear because I care!!”), I’m proud of that legacy. Now, though, I’ll get a chance to work on some new projects. It’s about doing something very different from, and I think complementary to**, the work I’ve done at Adobe.” john-nack

In a footnote he adds that “Adobe & Google have enjoyed great collaboration for years, and I hope to take that even further. There’s so much we can all do to help photographers & storytellers of every sort.”

Unfortunately, Nack indicates that — as a side effect of him joining Google — his Adobe blog, which I’ve visited regularly over the years, will be going silent.

Google, of course, has been making an intense effort to shore up the capabilities of its Google+ photo suite. The platform now does an insane amount of cloud processing on photographs to edit and enhance them — something Nack could doubtless aid them with.

Google’s recent acquisition of Snapseed gave it a great core of edit tools to work with and its absorption of Picasa into Google+ has made for an expansive and robust online photo solution. For a lot of folks I speak to, Google+ photos is a reason to use Google+ at all — something that many have been struggling with since its inception.

It seems Google is pulling the thread further on creating a definitive online editing suite and repository for photos. Provided you’re comfortable boarding the Google+ train that is.

Image Credit: Adobe Photoshop Hall of FameMark Hardie Flickr/CC

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