A Japanese university team has developed an airship equipped with a wireless Internet access point. The technology could be used to provide wireless telecommunications links over a wide area.
The team, from Chubu University in central Japan, have proved the technology works, said Osamu Saiki, a Chubu University student working on the project.
The Solan-1 craft was tethered at a height of 30 metres above the ground and provided coverage over an area of radius 500 metres. This could be extended to around a kilometre from the airship in all directions if it was raised to 100 metres above ground; but strong winds often meant it didn't reach this height.
The airship is solar-powered and thus also includes solar panels and there are also a pair of remote controlled cameras on the bottom of the craft that can send images via the wireless LAN connection.
Going forward, the university team plans to refine the technology. Problems encountered because of wind are one of the areas that the team will now look into, said Saiki. He also said they will work on ways of keeping the craft powered on days when it's raining or cloudy and sunlight is much lower than normal.
The Japanese government has been mulling a system that would use airships to provide cellular coverage to some of the country's mountainous areas which are currently out of the range of ground-based cellular towers. In the US, Sanswire Networks is planning a network of airships flying at altitudes of around 9 kilometres that would provide nationwide coverage.