The company behind Solar Impulse, the first solar airplane capable of flying day and night without using any fuel, is partnering with Google to help promote its goal of circumnavigating the globe in 2015 using only solar energy.
What’s often forgotten is that the Solar Impulse wasn’t the first solar plane to cross the United States. In the summer of 1990, 23 years ago, the Sunseeker performed a similar feat. Designed and flown by Eric Raymond, then a 33-year-old California engineer, Sunseeker flew across the country, making 21 stops over the course of a summer, spending 121 hours in the air.
It bears remembering how far away 1990 is in terms of technology. The latest cellphone was the bulky Motorola MicroTAC. The must-have computer was the Amiga 3000. The 1990 Sunseeker had amorphous silicon solar cells whose efficiency was just about 2 percent. There were almost 11 square meters of them, on the curvy top part of the wings, the tail boom, and the tailplane. The motor produced a paltry 2.4 kilowatts.
By comparison, the Solar Impulse is a giant. It was able to cross the United States in only six long stages, because it’s able to fly at night. The plane is much bigger, both in mass (1600 kilograms) and wingspan (63.4 meters). It’s powered by four 7.5-kW engines. The power train, whose total efficiency is rated at 12 percent, is powered by 200 m2 of solar cells.
Solar Impulse will work with the Silicon Valley-based Internet giant to enhance the company's social media presence leading up to the planned flight around the world. Google's various online or mobile platforms, including YouTube, Google+, Google Earth and Google Glass will be used to share information and multimedia with Solar Impulse supporters, company officials said.
"This partnership is a unique occasion to promote mutually shared values like pioneering spirit, innovation, engineering excellence and clean technologies allowing [us] to protect natural resources," Solar Impulse co-founders Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg said in a statement. "With Google on board, our reach with the public, younger generations, media and political and business decision makers will be significantly enhanced."
The newly announced partnership is the product of a successful collaboration with Google during Solar Impulse's record-setting, coast-to-coast flight across the United States this past summer, according to company officials.
This summer, the ultra-lightweight Solar Impulse plane completed a two-month-long cross-country flight, touching down in New York City on July 6 to wrap up a historic flight that included stops in Phoenix, Dallas, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C. Solar Impulse's coast-to-coast trip began on May 3 at Moffett Airfield near San Francisco, Calif.
Each leg of Solar Impulse's summer journey was broadcast online, featuring real-time updates on the plane's position, altitude and speed, and live views inside the aircraft's cockpit. As part of the company's new partnership with Google, upcoming Solar Impulse flights will include in-flight Google Hangouts to better connect the pilots with members of the public, Solar Impulse officials said.
The Solar Impulse aircraft is able to fly throughout the day and night without burning any fuel. The plane is powered entirely by solar panels and onboard batteries, which charge during the day to enable the plane to continue flying when the sun goes down.
The carbon-fiber plane weighs about the same as a small car, and generates roughly the same power as a small scooter, company officials have said.
In 2010, Solar Impulse successfully completed a 26-hour overnight flight, followed by a flight from Switzerland to Morocco in 2012.
This Solar kit laden behemoth will try to go around the globe in 2015, Hope it completes it!!