SoftBank and AeroVironment launch $65M solar, high-altitude, long-endurance UAS development program

MONROVIA, Calif. Japan-based telecommunications operator SoftBank Corp. and AeroVironment Inc. (NASDAQ:AVAV), maker of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for defense and commercial applications in Monrovia, California, have formed HAPSMobile Inc., a joint venture to develop solar-powered, high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) or high-altitude pseudo-satellites (HAPS) UAS for commercial operations.

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MONROVIA, Calif. Japan-based telecommunications operator SoftBank Corp. and AeroVironment Inc. (NASDAQ:AVAV), maker of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for defense and commercial applications in Monrovia, California, have formed HAPSMobile Inc., a joint venture to develop solar-powered, high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) or high-altitude pseudo-satellites (HAPS) UAS for commercial operations.

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AeroVironment will design and develop solar aircraft and ground control stations for flight testing and certification under the program.

AeroVironment Chief Executive Officer Wahid Nawabi calls the formation of the joint venture an “historic moment for AeroVironment,” adding “for many years, we have fully understood the incredible value high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft platforms could deliver to countless organizations and millions of people around the world through remote sensing and last mile, next generation IoT connectivity.

“We were searching for the right strategic partner to pursue this very large global opportunity with us,” Nawabi adds. “Now we believe we are extremely well-positioned to build on the decades of successful development we have performed to translate our solar UAS innovations into long-term value through HAPSMobile, Inc. Our entire team is excited, and we look forward to transforming this strategic growth opportunity into reality.”

Boasting a development program with a net maximum value of $65 million, HAPSMobile Inc. is a Japanese corporation that is 95 percent funded and owned by SoftBank Corp. and 5 percent funded and owned by AeroVironment Inc. AeroVironment is committed to contribute $5 million in capital for its 5 percent ownership of the joint venture, and has an option to increase its ownership stake in HAPSMobile up to 19 percent at the same cost basis as its initial 5 percent purchase.

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SoftBank Corp. and AeroVironment Inc. have agreed to license certain background intellectual properties to HAPSMobile, which will own the newly developed UAS intellectual property and possess exclusive rights for commercial applications globally, and non-commercial applications in Japan. AeroVironment will possess exclusive rights to the resulting intellectual property for certain non-commercial applications, except in Japan. AeroVironment will also possess exclusive rights to design and manufacture all such aircraft in the future for HAPSMobile, subject to the terms of the Joint Venture Agreement.

AeroVironment pioneered the concept of high-altitude solar-powered UAS in the 1980s, and developed and demonstrated multiple systems for NASA’s Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) program in the late 1990s and early 2000s, officials say. In August 2001, the AeroVironment Helios prototype reached an altitude of 96,863 feet, setting the world-record for sustained horizontal flight by a winged aircraft. In 2002, the AeroVironment Pathfinder Plus prototype performed the world’s first UAS telecommunications demonstrations at 65,000 feet by providing high-definition television (HDTV) signals, third-generation (3G) mobile voice, video and data and high-speed internet connectivity. Multiple United States government agencies funded the development of the hybrid-electric Global Observer unmanned aircraft system from 2007 through 2011. Global Observer represents a solution for extended operation over high Northern and Southern latitudes during local winters, when the sun’s energy is insufficient to maintain continuous solar aircraft operation at high altitude.

AeroVironment (NASDAQ:AVAV) is a global provider of unmanned aircraft systems, tactical missile systems, and electric vehicle charging and test systems, and serves militaries, government agencies, businesses, and consumers.

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