Google is planning to test out drones made by Titan Aerospace, a company the search giant bought earlier this year.
Google has applied to the FCC to use some wireless frequencies as part of the tests. It has also posted a number of job advertisements that say it is also trying to get permission for tests from the FAA.
The company is requesting temporary use of part of the unlicensed 2400 MHz band for transmission from the drone to the ground and use of part of the 900 MHz band for the reverse.
The most obvious assumption is that Google is hoping to use the drones to provide Internet connectivity, along the lines of its balloon-based Project Loon, but the application with the FCC seems to indicate a different intention.
"The emission designator they specify for the drone-to-ground transmission is specifically for analog video and not for data transmission. So, on paper, this is not an internet access test," said Steve Crowley, a wireless engineer who spotted the filing and posted about it on his blog.
It's hard to say why Google would want to transmit analog video. Crowley speculates that Google may in fact want to test ground equipment or some other process where the type of signal transmitted from the drone doesn't really matter.
Perhaps Google really does want to transmit video for a service related to mapping.
Google spokeswoman Kelly Mason said the company is not offering any comment beyond what's in the FCC application.
In the application, Google requests that key points be redacted because "the technology under development is highly sensitive and confidential in nature."
It's also confusing that Google chose the 900 MHz frequencies for the uplink. Part of the band it's looking for permission to use is licensed although the licensee isn't using it.
"Why they are using the 900 MHz band, I don't know," Crowley said. "Maybe there was equipment more readily available for the narrowband data transmission they specify. Maybe they did not want to take more of the 2400 MHz band to avoid alarming the FCC."
Before Google starts testing, it'll still need permission from the FAA. According to a recent job posting, Google is working in that direction. The posting, for an FAA quality assurance program manager, says that Titan "is working with the FAA to obtain airspace for flight testing within the National Airspace System and Special Airworthiness Certification for its Solara aircraft."
Google bought Titan earlier this year for an undisclosed sum, shortly after rumors surfaced that Facebook was planning to buy the company. Titan's drones are sometimes called atmospheric satellites. They are designed to fly high -- at around 65,000 feet -- and stay in the air for potentially several years.
Prior to the acquisition, Titan suggested that its drones could be used to bring Internet connections to remote areas or help monitor environmental disasters like oil spills.