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SoftBank-Backed Altaeros Wants Blimps to Deliver “SaaS in the Sky”

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an airborne wind turbine for generating renewable energy, an idea that attracted a $7 million investment from SoftBank in late 2014.

Altaeros, which is based in the Somerville cleantech incubator Greentown Labs, has tested its wind turbine aerostats on a small scale. But so far it hasn’t implemented them in any “long-term commercial deployments,” Glass says.

“Shortly after Softbank’s initial investment, the price of oil fell through the floor,” Glass says. “That, unfortunately, at least in the near term, took away a lot of our initial competitive advantage.”

Glass says he hopes Altaeros will eventually return to the wind turbine product. He says the company’s aerostats could also be used for observing soil and other environmental conditions for the agriculture industry; monitoring and helping to coordinate responses to forest fires or other natural disasters; and providing a network for “remote, autonomous industrial applications,” such as autonomous mining sites.

But, for now, the company’s 25-plus employees are focused on the telecom applications. The plan is to rent the use of the blimps to carriers on a subscription basis, which Glass equates to the software-as-a-service business model—call it “SaaS in the sky,” he says.

“Over the last 10 years, the carriers have moved away from owning their own towers,” Glass says. “That’s created an industry of tower companies that own and lease the towers. Our plan is to, in most markets or geographies, provide the SuperTower as a service to basically fit in with how carriers are used to doing business.”

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