Was Google listening in when Skybox Imaging co-founder Ching-Yu Hu told Inc. she wanted "to index the earth the way Google indexes the Internet"? That may remain a mystery, but the search giant clearly sees potential, announcing it will acquire the Mountain View, California startup for $500 million.
Five-year-old Skybox, which had previously raised about $91 million in venture capital, was launched by grad students at Stanford, along with aerospace experts such as Dan Berkenstock, a former NASA designer.
The team built a platform that can process, store, and deliver a massive volume of high-resolution images thanks to minifridge-sized satellites like SkySat-1, which was sent into orbit aboard a Russian Dnepr rocket last November. The company plans to launch eight additional satellites before the end of 2015.
Hu always felt the satellites were the least sexy aspect of Skybox. "In our mind, we really see ourselves as an information company," she told Inc. "In the future, our customers won't know or care about the satellites. They'll just care about the images that make huge decisions."
But Google may have a different perspective. Now that the company owns Skybox, it may be inclined to send a fleet of satellites to take aerial pictures and perhaps provide Internet access to people in remote areas of the world. Google could even harness Skybox's technology--and 120 employees--to equip entrepreneurs like corn growers with satellite images that can impact their business.
"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," Skybox wrote in its blog post.
The deal will need approval from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as the Federal Communications Commission, before it goes in effect. But with Google apparently on a shopping spree--it purchased drone maker Titan Aerospace for an undisclosed amount two months ago--startups connecting remote parts of the world may have just found an attractive exit.