Apple bought a firm that made a smart balloon platform for capturing impressive aerial imagery

The company best known for the iconic smartphone may be working on satellites, as per Bloomberg. This is cool, but here’s something even cooler: back in 2015, Apple acquired a startup called Aether Industries LLC that specialized in “near-space technology.”

That’s interesting because no one knew about this deal before Bloomberg’s write-up today.

Among other technologies, Aether Industries developed high-altitude balloons used for capturing aerial images, anywhere on Earth, at up to ten times the resolution of the highest-resolution commercial mapping satellite in orbit today.

How cool is that?

About Aether Industries

The startup has its offices in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Pasadena, California.

From the About section of the Aether Industries website:

Aether Industries develops and distributes advanced near-space technologies. From high bandwidth radio transceivers for high-altitude balloons, Aether constantly pushes the boundary of the state-of-the-art.

Aside from high-altitude balloons and high-bandwidth radio transceivers it builds, the company provides a range of other services, including the aforementioned high-resolution aerial photography and various educational projects.

Apple likely bought the firm for its high-quality aerial imaging capability, which could help the Cupertino giant improve the quality of aerial photography on its Maps service.

Highest-resolution aerial images

Aether does full color aerial imaging anywhere on Earth in 5cm through 500cm resolution.

That’s up to ten times the resolution of the highest-resolution commercial mapping satellite in orbit today, which provides color images at a resolution of 165cm. The company claims its aerial imaging comes at 1/100th the cost of typical satellite imaging systems.

Left: 50cm full-color resolution photo taken above Lansing Michigan from an Aether balloon; Right: 15cm full-color resolution image taken over Detroit.

Aerial images captured using its own smart balloon platforms can be refreshed daily, weekly, or monthly as needed. Aether states that just one of its balloons can capture and deliver up to 50,000 square kilometers per day at 50cm resolution, in full color.

Apple building satellites?

At the annual Satellite 2017 conference in Washington D.C. last month, Apple was rumored to be funding Boeing’s plan to launch a thousand satellites in low-Earth orbit for providing faster-than-cellular broadband Internet access throughout the United States and internationally.

Source: Bloomberg