Solar Impulse, the solar-powered plane, has nearly circumnavigated the world.
This gentle, quiet dragonfly has the wingspan of a 747 and runs on four wing-mounted rotors driven by an overwing scalp of more than 17,000 photovoltaic cells. Stored in 800 pounds (363 kg) of advanced lithium polymer batteries, solar energy also keeps the plane aloft through the night. Si2’s featherweight fiber-and-foam body weighs only as much as your average SUV (about 5,000 pounds, or 2,300 kilos).
Even with these physical advantages, though, the plane could not exist without a vast, continuously functioning support system of internet-connected software and data analytics. The same technology has begun to revolutionize the machines that currently drive world industry and transportation, including those that power our ships and land vehicles.
“Thousands of sensors send data on both the plane and its pilot (heart rate, blood oxygen, etc.) to complex simulation systems at mission control on the ground, keeping Solar Impulse flying efficiently and safely around the clock. It embodies the Internet of Things in the sky.”
The Internet of Things, Services and People (IoTSP) — ABB’s more holistic term — is turning masses of data into productivity gains across a wide range of industries. Remote monitoring of equipment on oil platforms, predictive maintenance of critical assets in a data center, real time data from a manufacturing floor – these are all examples of IoTSP today. These technologies give us better ways of linking disparate elements and information from infrastructure, utilities, transportation, and industry as a whole.
I wanted to share this with all of you who love flight. What a breathtaking plane and what a ballsy flight. As of July 18, the Solar Impulse had reached Egypt, all that remains to complete the circumnavigation is for her to cross her wake in Abu Dhabi. (Wonderful story and pictures here.)
It’s a proud successor to Paul MacReady’s Gossamer Condor which completed the first human-powered flight in 1977. MacReady soon followed with the Solar Challenger which crossed the English Channel without the help of storage batteries in 1981.
We’ve come a long way in a very short amount of time. What a stunning proof-of-concept, what a great call by ABB to sponsor the project.