Google Close To Purchasing High-Res Satellite Company

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Google is closing in on a deal for Skybox Imaging, a satellite company that specialises in recording very detailed landscape pictures and video. We now have heard that the deal with Skybox “is happening,” with one person estimating the price at roughly $1 billion. The same source said that at Skybox’s last fundraising round, when it picked up $70 million in 2012, it was valued at between $500 million and $700 million.

Google has declined to comment for this story, and Skybox did not respond to TechCrunch’s requests for comment.

So why might Google be interested in Skybox? There are a few areas where Skybox Imaging — or companies like it — could be attractive to the search giant.

The first is for more data for Google’s consumer mapping services.

Currently, Google uses a mixture of sources for Google Earth, the real-world imaging component of Google Maps. Some of those images are more up to date than others, and some are years out of date. Having its own primary source of data, updated regularly, would provide a more reliable and accurate set of data that Google could potentially expand into more consumer-focused products and services.

The second is for more data for Google’s B2B business.

Google has a business division called “Earth Enterprise” that provides mapping data for large organizations, institutions and businesses. “Google Earth Enterprise allows you to store and process terabytes of imagery, terrain and vector data on your own server infrastructure, and publish maps securely for your users to view using Google Earth desktop or mobile apps, or through your own application using the Google Maps API,” the division notes on its home page.

This seems to be a significant part of the company’s enterprise push — significant enough that news and case studies from the division feature prominently on Google’s general enterprise blog.

“A constellation of small imaging satellites, like what we already have in place today with RapidEye or what Skybox may have in the future, would give Google a very reliable, rich content source for imagery analytics and related applications,” Scott Soenen, CTO at another satellite company, BlackBridge, said. He says his company is planning for the next generation of its own small superspectral satellites that will ramp up imaging capabilities further.

In both of these cases, there are signs of another interesting trend at Google: as the company continues to mature, it is increasingly exploring what other lines of business it might tap in the future beyond its current bread and butter of search-related advertising.

That’s important not just for diversification: some believe search ads will decline as the dominant force in digital advertising prominence over the next couple of years. Maps and organizing data in the physical world are clear extensions of Google’s core search business.

A third area has to do with how Skybox has been conceived as a company. Founded in 2009 by Julian Mann, Dan Berkenstock, Ching-Yu Hu, and John Fenwick, the startup has gone some way towards figuring out how to commercialise its data, rather than provide simple data sources for others to configure as many other companies in the commercial satellite industry have done.

“Skybox is looking very far downstream, and that’s an approach where people have not been very successful,” Soenen says. In that regard, Google appears to be interested not just in data but also some of the talent that’s figuring out interesting ways of using it.

Google Close To Purchasing High-Res Satellite Company

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