Solar Impulse: QNX to play role in first round-the-world solar-powered flight

Quick, what’s 211 feet wide, weighs 3500 pounds, cruises at 45 mph, and runs on 11,000 voltaic cells?

Answer: The first solar-powered plane designed to circumnavigate the Earth.

I don’t have any details yet, but I've just learned that QNX is the realtime operating system provider for the Solar Impulse project, which intends to fly a solar plane around the world in 2012.

Earlier this month, the project team unveiled a test plane, dubbed the HB-SIA, near the city of Zurich. Using data gathered from the test flights, the team will create another iteration of the plane for the 2012 trip. That plane, the HB-SIB, will complete its round-the-world flight in five legs. (It would be impossible for a pilot to remain seated in the plane for the entire trip.)

It’s easy to dismiss such a grandiose project, but Bertrand Piccard, the plane’s creator and pilot, made the first non-stop round-the-world balloon flight back in 1999. So he serious street cred. Also, judging by the sponsors — the Deutsche Banke, for example — the project has major financial support.

In fact, you can help support the project yourself, by “sponsoring” one of the plane’s voltaic cells. If you click here, you’ll see that cell number 1969 is sponsored by Buzz Aldrin, so you would be in good company. :-)

Interestingly, the Solar Impulse team states that the project is largely symbolic, created to promote greater use of renewable energy. Speaking to a reporter, Piccard said, "Solar Impulse is being developed primarily to change the energy consumption philosophy. We want [everyone] to understand that the renewable energy sources can be used quite effectively."

That said, Piccard is also on record as saying that some of technology developed for the plane could have commercial applications.

More on this story as I uncover details about QNX's role in the Solar Impulse project. Until then, a video...

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