Flying Lab: This Solar Plane is Breaking World Records Flying Lab: This Solar Plane is Breaking World Records
Design

Flying Lab: This Solar Plane is Breaking World Records

by Viktoria Dijakovic

June 1, 2013

Some of the technology on the solar plane has already been used in other industries, from a special foam used in high-end refrigerators to a new technique for batteries that is now used in portable electronics and the car industry. The carbon fiber utilized for the second-generation aircraft, currently under construction, is extremely light (25g/m²) and is being mass-produced for the first time. To appropriately monitor the pilot’s state of fatigue and vigilance, an electrocardiogram was designed to accurately measure the heartbeat curve. This device has been tested on patients after operations as a means to inform their physician real-time about any anomalies, and could potentially be used in cars to detect a driver's level of attention. 

Solar Impulse’s first prototype aircraft exceeded expectations, proving greater resistance and efficiency than was initially imagined. Before this summer’s feat of crossing the United States, the solar airplane flew to France, Belgium, Spain, and Morocco from its home base in Switzerland. Apart from being a direct result of research and technological innovation, the solar plane is also an ambassador for renewable energies—a symbol calling for a revision of our society’s current lifestyle.

And that’s when the real question arises: if we can fly a airplane day and night across countries, and connect continents using only solar energy, why can't we also use solar more on the ground? Solar energy has been proven to be a good source for households’ electricity or water-heating needs. But that’s not all it can do—solar power is also used on satellites and in other technologies like a solar-powered elevator (built by Solar Impulse’s partner Schindler). With more research, it can be used in many more applications.

Although a clean tech solution for the aviation industry might not be feasible in the near future, a shift on the ground certainly is. This doesn’t, and shouldn’t, require a radical change in our current lifestyles. On the contrary, Solar Impulse simply wants to act as a vector for a contagious engagement in scientific research, technological innovation and energy savings—an inspiration for a cleaner generation and a trigger to take the risk of thinking outside the box. And who knows, maybe by investing more in scientific research now, we might even see (though we probably wouldn’t hear) the first solar-powered passenger airplane in our lifetimes.

Images courtesy of Solar Impulse

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Flying Lab: This Solar Plane is Breaking World Records