Google agreed to acquire Titan Aerospace, a start-up developing solar-powered drones, in a move that could boost future efforts to spread internet access around the world, particularly in emerging markets.

Google told Mobile World Live that Titan’s “lightweight solar atmospheric satellites” could help the company solve problems it has been focused on for some time, “including internet access, the environment and disaster relief”.

Titan said potential uses include providing internet connections in remote areas and monitoring of environmental damage due to deforestation or oil spills.

The aircraft being developed by Titan are intended to eventually be able to fly continuously for up to five years. However, Google said the proof-of-concept technology is “nowhere near deployment”, while it is “very early days” for long-duration solar-powered flight.

Google already has Project Loon in which solar-powered transmitters attached to helium balloons are being tested for their potential to provide internet access to the developing world.

Google said Titan’s expertise is likely to feed into Project Loon as well as the Makani project, which is developing an airborne wind turbine for generating electricity.

Titan was founded in 2012 and has around 20 employees that will continue to be based in New Mexico and be led by current CEO, Vern Raburn. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Facebook was reportedly in discussions with Titan but instead opted to pay $20 million for UK-based Ascenta, which is working on similar technology. A source told The Wall Street Journal that Google offered to top any offer made by Facebook for Titan.

The social network recently unveiled its Connectivity Lab which is working to bring internet access to emerging markets through the use of “new platforms for connectivity on the ground, in the air and in orbit”.

The work being conducted by Facebook’s Connectivity Lab is part of the initiative aimed at providing internet access to people around the world who currently are unable to get online.

Facebook’s team, which includes members of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Ames Research Center and the US National Optical Astronomy Observatory, is looking to make use of free-space optical communication (FSO), which can transmit data in space using infrared laser beams.