Researchers at Solar Impulse in Lausanne, Switzerland, are designing a solar-powered, single-pilot aircraft they hope will circumnavigate the globe in 2010.
In order to generate enough electricity from photovoltaic panels on the tops of its wings, the craft will need a wingspan of 80 meters – about that of the new superjumbo Airbus A380 jet; at the same time, however, its weight can’t exceed 2,000 kilograms.
Meeting these constraints requires pushing the limits of materials and design and superoptimizing electrical components, batteries, and power management systems. Leading the plane’s development is the Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard; in 1999, he and a partner became the first people to fly nonstop around the world in a balloon.
The new craft’s basic design emerged from computer models built with help from the European Space Agency and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. The propulsion system alone required the modeling of some 100 parameters ranging from the pitch of the propellers to the diameter of the motors, says Yves Perriard, an electrical engineer at the Lausanne institute.
The plane will use composite structural parts and photovoltaics protected by a special polymer that allows them to function in temperatures as low as -60 degrees C and as high as 80 degrees C. Component prototyping is slated for next year, followed by manufacture in 2007 and the first test flight in 2008. Piccard’s company has raised about one-third of the estimated $50 million cost of building the plane.
Going bald? Lab-grown hair cells could be on the way
These biotech companies are reprogramming cells to treat baldness, but it’s still early days.
Tonga’s volcano blast cut it off from the world. Here’s what it will take to get it reconnected.
The world is anxiously awaiting news from the island—but on top of the physical destruction, the eruption has disconnected it from the internet.
A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click
Deepfake researchers have long feared the day this would arrive.
Our brains exist in a state of “controlled hallucination”
Three new books lay bare the weirdness of how our brains process the world around us.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.