New York (The Verge) — Alphabet and SoftBank’s solar-powered drone provides first LTE connection theverge.com/2020/10/8/2150….
Alphabet’s Loon and SoftBank’s HAPSMobile announced that they successfully provided an LTE connection from a fixed-wing solar-powered aircraft for the first time. Turning planes into flying cell towers could help improve internet coverage in remote areas and during disasters.
Today, though, Google’s parent company Alphabet and Japanese tech giant SoftBank announced a minor milestone in their efforts to make flying cell towers a reality, running a stable LTE connectionfrom a solar-powered drone 62,000 feet high in the stratosphere. It was a good enough connection to support an international video call, with participants from Japan and America, including Vint Cerf, one of the “fathers of the internet.”
The test is part of a partnership between Alphabet’s Loon and SoftBank’s HAPSMobile that was first announced in April 2019. Loon, which is best known for its balloon-based cell towers, provides the communications payload, while HAPSMobile builds the aircraft.
In this case, that is the Sunglider: an enormous autonomous solar-powered drone designed to stay aloft for months at a time. This huge craft looks like a single massive wing, some 78 meters (255 feet) across. It’s powered by 10 propellers with a top speed of 110 km/h (68 mph). While that’s pretty slow for an aircraft, the Sunglider (previously called the HAWK30) is designed for endurance rather than speed. It will linger high in the stratosphere above commercial flights, recharging its batteries from the sun and autonomously adjusting to the changing winds. — James Vincent/@verge