The Hawk 30, a giant 10-engine solar-powered drone, is a dark horse in the race towards incorporating unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into wireless connectivity, reports Popular Mechanics. Facebook tried to build a UAV that could beam down the internet in 2017 called Aquila, whose wingspan was the size of a Boeing 747, but abandoned the project after landing failures that damaged the vehicle. Google also explored the concept in 2015 but decided to pursue technology within high-altitude balloons rather than drones.
The two lesser-known companies—Japanese tech giant SoftBank and U.S. drone manufacturer AeroVironment—collaborated under a $65 million partnership to build the Hawk 30. AeroEnvironment paid $800,000 to NASA “to supervise and provide ground support for the upcoming low altitude tests, which are scheduled to continue until the end of June,” according to IEEE Spectrum. “If those are successful, the company will go higher in its next round.”
The Hawk is closely related to other UAVs built by AeroVironment for NASA, though none of those drones were made in partnership with SoftBank. One of those drones, known as Helios, ascended to 93,000 feet, which was the highest altitude ever reached by any winged horizontal aircraft. Helios, however, crashed during a high-altitude test in 2003.
Though the Hawk 30 will likely not be ready for the commercial market for quite some time, its success would mean broadening internet capabilities to rural spaces that struggle to receive consistently strong wireless connection. Though it may find competition coming from companies like Airbus, the biggest names in tech have renounced their place in this new development, and AeroVironment’s collaboration with NASA certainly gives it a significant leg up.
The Hawk 30, however, is still in its preliminary stages with few pictures circulating of its design. If the vehicle is able to make it out of testing, it could globally expand wireless connectivity.