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Last month, the SoftBank and AeroVironment joint venture HAPSMobile said it would form a “strategic relationship” with Loon that came with a $125-million investment from HAPSMobile.

Drones could be easier to control and direct than balloons, analysts said.

Improvements in energy-carrying capacity and costs of solar cells and batteries can be seen in AeroVironment’s latest drone, the Hawk30.

Rolled out a month ago, the Hawk30 has a wingspan of 256 feet and 10 propellers along the edge.

It is capable of providing coverage for a radius of about 124 miles while staying aloft continuously for six months, SoftBank said. The longest solar-powered flight with a previous-generation AeroVironment HAPS drone was for 18 hours in 2001.

The Hawk30 will collect power from the sun during the day and draw off its batteries at night, a SoftBank executive said in a translated presentation late last month.

AeroVironment declined to say whether the Hawk30 drone has made a first flight, or what its timeline is for making such a flight, citing competitive reasons.

But the fundamental challenge in making those systems work is to balance aircraft weight, endurance and power consumption.

“I think there’s a lot of promise for those aircraft,” Robbins said. “It’s just something that’s dependent on the state of technology today.”

Holland Michel was more cautious. SoftBank, after all, has also invested in OneWeb, which is developing a broadband satellite constellation.


“It really is anyone’s guess whether this is the time that they’ll actually crack the code,” he said.

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