Google Just Bought a Swarm of Satellites to Make Maps Way Better

By Sarah Zhang on at

Today, Skybox Imaging announced it's being bought by Google for a cool $500 million (£298 million) in cash. Known for its high-resolution satellite imagery and video, Skybox's fleet of satellites could make Google Earth a whole lot crisper—and help fulfil Google's vision of worldwide satellite-based internet access.

The five-year-old startup had been planning a fleet of 24 satellites, each about 200 pounds (90 kilos) and capable of three-foot resolution from the sky. Its first satellites have already been sending back stunning high-res video of Earth, like timelapse of the Burj Khalifa or planes landing at the Beijing airport.

The deal still has to be approved by the FCC and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But Skybox has hinted at ambitions bigger than just satellites that send back great video and images. The real game, as its co-founder told The Atlanticin January, is in analysing the satellite images. They want to create a giant database of satellite images with which companies might build applications and programs to monitor and analyse the entire world.

"Skybox and Google share more than just a zip code," Skybox wrote in their statement announcing the deal. "We both believe in making information (especially accurate geospatial information) accessible and useful. And to do this, we're both willing to tackle problems head on — whether it's building cars that drive themselves or designing our own satellites from scratch." Is it too early to make a Skynet joke? [Skybox]