AeroVironment will team up with the Japan-based SoftBank Corporation to develop a solar-powered high-altitude long-endurance unmanned air vehicle for commercial operations, the company announced this week.
The Japanese telecommunications operator will back the high-altitude pseudo-satellites project, known as HAPSMobile, Inc. The joint venture will fund up to $65 million for development, including $5 million from AeroVironment.
Under the deal, HAPSMobile will own the intellectual property and rights to develop commercial applications around the world and non-commercial applications in Japan. AeroVironment will own IP for non-commercial applications, except in Japan, and the right to manufacture future aircraft for HAPSMobile, subject to the terms of the Joint Venture Agreement.
The announcement could mark the revival of AeroVironment’s Global Observer, a high-altitude UAV the company had once intended to compete in the military field with Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4 Global Hawk and General Atomics’ Predator family.
AeroVironment has kept mum on the Global Observer since 2014, when the company announced a joint venture with Lockheed Martin to pursue international customers for the HALE UAS.
Much of Global Observer’s momentum was quashed after the first prototype funded by the Pentagon crashed in 2011, pushing the Defense Department to shutter the demonstration programme the next year.
But AeroVironment continued with development of a second prototype, FlightGlobal previously reported.
The HAPSMobile project will join a growing class of high-altitude pseudo-satellite projects. In addition to AeroVironment's project, Airbus is continuing to test the high-altitude Zephyr UAV and Facebook is developing the similarly-sized Aquila vehicle. Last year, Airbus and Facebook agreed to partner on high-altitude pseudo-satellite development.