Around the World, Solar Powered
Robert Saunders, instructor in electrical engineering, is designing an auto-pilot system for a completely solar-powered airplane called Solar Impulse. The plane will attempt to fly around the world using nothing but the sun’s energy.
A team at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, or Swiss Institute of Technology, created the first solar airplane and is working on a second plane capable of using solar energy to fly around the world in 2015.
The wings and horizontal stabilizer of Solar Impulse will be covered with cells to collect the sun’s energy during the day, which powers the plane and charges the batteries that keep it flying through the night.
Saunders’ auto-pilot system is crucial. Since the craft holds just one pilot, the pilot will have to fly the plane with only 20-minute rest breaks. During the 20-minute breaks, the auto-pilot will control the airspeed and direction of the plane. The auto-pilot system, the team at mission control, and the single pilot in the cockpit must work simultaneously to achieve success.
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