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Google buys satellite maker Skybox Imaging to improve Google Maps

10 June 2014, 11:53 pm EDT By Mike Cannon Tech Times
Acquiring Skybox would give a boost to the reliability and accuracy of Google Earth and Google Earth Enterprise.  ( Johan Larsson )

Google issued a statement today confirming its acquisition of Skybox Imaging. Google will use Skybox's inexpensive satellites to provide up to date information for Google Maps, and is also looking toward future projects.

The satellite photos currently used by Google Maps are between one and three years old. With a fleet of Skybox satellites orbiting the planet, the images could be updated far more frequently. This would help keep Google apprised of new road construction projects and other recent changes, making Google Maps more reliable and accurate.

Google also says that it is looking at new projects using the technology. Although current satellites are used primarily for high-resolution imaging, Skybox's true value is its ability to build small satellites out of easily acquired components. The company says it has built and launched the world's smallest high-resolution imaging satellite. Google hopes that Skybox satellites could one day aid in disaster relief efforts by maintaining a current picture of the area as events unfold. The satellites could also be used to provide internet access to areas without a landline connection.

Google's efforts to expand internet access motivated the recent purchase of Titan Aerospace, which makes solar-powered drones. Google also started Project Loon, which is experimenting with the use of high-altitude balloons. The acquisition of Skybox may be more immediately useful, but the long-term goal of expanding internet access across the globe is the same.

Skybox was started in 2009 by four business school students from Standford who believed that smaller and cheaper satellites were the future of the space industry. After a slow start, the company eventually caught the interest of investors like Khosla Ventures and Bessemer Venture Partners, raising a total of $91 million. Although a significant amount of money for a startup company, that figure pales in comparison to the $500 million for which Google purchased the company.

"No one expected this company to succeed," Bessemer partner David Cowan told The New York Times. "People in aerospace wrote it off as a Mickey Mouse attempt to do something that was impossible."

When Skybox successfully launched its first satellite in November, the company started attracting more attention. SkySat-1 was slated to be the first of 24 satellites launched into orbit, however Google has not yet stated whether those launches will proceed as planned after the acquisition.

"We have built an incredible team and empowered them to push state-of-the-art imaging to new heights," said Skybox in its statement. "The time is right to join a company who can challenge us to think even bigger and bolder, and who can support us in accelerating our ambitious vision."

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