Over the course of the past two decades, Google has rapidly become the most ubiquitous and recognizable player in the tech world. First through its gorgeously minimalist search engine, then through its innovative email platform and on to its brilliant GPS Maps service and its acquisition of social video sharing site YouTube, Google has developed a unique dominance over the world of information technology. On June 10, Google announced the latest addition to its kingdom: Skybox Imaging, a California-based satellite imagery provider.
Google paid $500 million for the firm, which is known for using old Russian missiles to send satellites into orbit which are then used to take extremely high resolution photos of the Earth. Skybox Imaging plans to launch its entire fleet of 24 satellites by 2018, which will give it the power to capture images with extreme detail, including real-time high-definition video, up to three times a day.
While on the surface of things, this doesn’t appear that different from preexisting technologies such as Google Earth and Google Maps’ Streetview function, SkyBox Imaging’s fleet of satellites have one critical differentiating factor: they’re cheap. Currently, there are nine satellites capable of capturing high-resolution images for commercial purposes, and they spend most of their time pressed into service by the U.S. government. By drastically augmenting the number of available satellites, Skybox Imaging is giving consumers access to fresher data and in greater quantities than ever before.
When paired with rumors that Google may be seeking a partnership with Virgin Galactic to fund a joint venture that would take advantage of its rocket technology, this news heralds almost unlimited potential. The easiest allegory for this situation is that of GPS, which initially debuted as an expensive piece of military hardware that was gradually adopted by pilots and shipping companies. It eventually trickled down to the iPhone that many of you will read this piece on.
The original creators of this technology could have never envisioned Google Maps. And yet, here we are today. By massively multiplying the amount of available data available, Skybox Imaging, and the technologies that Google will develop from it, may usher in the next great technological wonder. In simple economic terms, this could also serve to massively grow Google’s business by allowing it to control its own satellites which could then provide Internet to new parts of the world, expanding Google’s dominance into the third-world nations that have long proved impenetrable due to simple technological barriers.
Unlike many other recent high profile tech buyouts, Google’s acquisition of Skybox Imaging is not likely to result in any dramatic and immediate changes to their products. The effects of this acquisition won’t be flashy, but they will be profound and could ultimately result in another great technological shift in the near future.
[Sources: NBC News, Wall Street Journal]