A full-scale version of Facebook’s huge Aquila solar powered drone has successfully completed its first test flight in Yuma, Arizona.
We first reported on Aquila back in August last year. The unmanned airplane has a wingspan of around 42 metres – the same as a Boeing 737 – which is covered by solar cells.
Far lighter than a Boeing due to its design and carbon fibre structure, around half the weight of the craft is taken up by lithium-ion batteries. Its cured carbon fiber wings are stronger than steel for the same mass of material.
Aquila will ultimately fly far above the clouds and commercial air traffic, enabling it to be fully solar powered during daylight hours and by its batteries, recharged by the solar array, during the night.
The goal of the project is to create a fleet of Aquila-type craft that will beam internet access to remote and underserved communities around the world.
Free space laser communications, operating at fibre optic speed, will create a network between the craft and e-band technology will transmit data to receivers on the ground.
The recent test flight went for 90 minutes, three times longer than planned.
“We were able to verify several performance models and components, including aerodynamics, batteries, control systems, and crew training. In our next tests, we will fly Aquila faster, higher and longer, eventually taking it above 60,000 feet,” says Jay Parikh, Facebook’s Global Head of Engineering and Infrastructure.
The final version of Aquila will be able to stay aloft for up to 3 months at a time.
“When complete, Aquila will be able to circle a region up to 60 miles in diameter, beaming connectivity down from an altitude of more than 60,000 feet using laser communications and millimeter wave systems,” stated Mr. Parikh.
Aquila will consume around the same amount of electricity as a couple of small fan-heaters when at its cruising speed.
As to when Aquila will be ready for prime-time; that isn’t clear. Mr. Parikh says the Facebook Connectivity Labs team still has a long way to go before realising their goal of Aquila playing an important part in providing internet access for all.
The first round-the-world solar powered flight has been completed, after the Solar Impulse aircraft touched down in Abu Dhabi.
Bertrand Piccard piloted the plane for a final time, steering it safely from the Egyptian capital Cairo to the UAE.
He has been taking turns at the controls with Swiss compatriot Andre Borschberg, with the mission aiming to promote renewable energy.
It brings to an end a voyage that began in Abu Dhabi on 9 March last year.
“The future is clean. The future is you. The future is now. Let’s take it further,” Mr Piccard said, arriving into Abu Dhabi to cheers and applause.
The 17-stage journey covered some 42,000km, taking in four continents, three seas and two oceans.
The longest leg, an 8,924km (5,545-mile) flight from Nagoya in Japan to Hawaii, US, lasted nearly 118 hours and saw Mr Borschberg break the absolute world record for longest (time duration) uninterrupted solo flight.
It was just one of 19 official aviation records set during the global adventure.
Mr Piccard and Mr Borschberg have been working on the Solar Impulse project for more than a decade.
The pair had hoped to complete the challenge last year but progress was not quite swift enough to get the best of the weather in the Northern Hemisphere’s summer.
And when battery damage was sustained on that epic five-day, five-night passage over the western Pacific in June/July 2015, the decision was taken to ground the effort for 10 months.
Solar Impulse is no heavier than a car, but has the wingspan of a Boeing 747. It is powered by 17,000 solar cells.
Its experimental design presents a number of technical difficulties, with the airplane being very sensitive to weather conditions.
Indeed, the passage from Cairo was very bumpy for Mr Piccard as he battled severe turbulence above the hot Saudi desert.
The cockpit is about the size of a public telephone box, with the pilots having to wear oxygen tanks to breathe at high altitude and permitted to only sleep for 20 minutes at a time.
LEG 1: 9 March. Abu Dhabi (UAE) to Muscat (Oman) – 772km; 13 Hours 1 Minute
LEG 2: 10 March. Muscat (Oman) to Ahmedabad (India) – 1,593km; 15 Hours 20 Minutes
LEG 3: 18 March. Ahmedabad (India) to Varanasi (India) – 1,170km; 13 Hours 15 Minutes
LEG 4: 18 March. Varanasi (India) to Mandalay (Myanmar) – 1,536km; 13 Hours 29 Minutes
LEG 5: 29 March. Mandalay (Myanmar) to Chongqing (China) – 1,636km; 20 Hours 29 Minutes
LEG 6: 21 April. Chongqing (China) to Nanjing (China) – 1,384km; 17 Hours 22 Minutes
LEG 7: 30 May. Nanjing (China) to Nagoya (Japan) – 2,942km; 1 Day 20 Hours 9 Minutes
LEG 8: 28 June. Nagoya (Japan) to Kalaeloa, Hawaii (US) – 8,924km; 4 Days 21 Hours 52 Minutes
LEG 9: 21 April. Kalaeloa, Hawaii (US) to Mountain View, California (US) – 4,523km; 2 Days 17 Hours 29 Minutes
LEG 10: 2 May. Mountain View, California (US) to Phoenix, Arizona (US) – 1,199km; 15 Hours 52 Minutes
LEG 11: 12 May. Phoenix, Arizona (US) to Tulsa, Oklahoma (US) – 1,570 km; 18 Hours 10 Minutes
LEG 12: 21 May. Tulsa, Oklahoma (US) to Dayton, Ohio (US) – 1,113 km; 16 Hours 34 Minutes
LEG 13: 25 May. Dayton, Ohio (US) to Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania (US) – 1,044 km; 16 Hours 47 Minutes
LEG 14: 11 June. Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania (US) to New York (US) – 230km; 4 Hours 41 Minutes
LEG 15: 20 June. New York (US) to Seville (Spain) – 6,765km; 2 Days 23 Hours 8 minutes
LEG 16: 11 July. Seville (Spain) to Egypt (Cairo) – 3,745km; 2 Days 50 Minutes
LEG 17: 23 July. Egypt (Cairo) to Abu Dhabi (UAE) – 2,694 km; 2 Days 47 Minutes
Technology is making, or will soon make, solar power easier to use and more efficient—both on your home and on the go
By: Pauline Curtet
A row of wind turbines towers on the edge of the picturesque Bavarian village of Wildpoldsried, population 2,600, where rolling meadows meet pine forests and Alpine peaks line the horizon.
“I love them,” says Thomas Pfluger, a local resident, gazing at the windmills jutting out above the tree-tops. “To look at them, it makes me proud.”
Pfluger’s home village, with its old Catholic church and traditional beer garden, may be rural Bavaria at its most idyllic, but it’s also at the cutting edge of Germany’s green energy revolution.
Known as the “Renewables Village,” it uses mainly wind, solar and biomass to meet all its electricity needs, and sells the rest back into the national grid at a profit.
Like many other communities in Germany, Wildpoldsried took advantage of generous subsidies and price guarantees that were rolled out in recent years to boost alternative energy.
To ensure local acceptance, Wildpoldsried relied on a simple idea: to involve the entire village and spread the benefits among its people.
Like 300 other locals, Pfluger, a 55-year-old IT developer, put his money into the wind farm, which offered guaranteed, above-market-rate returns for 20 years.
“I invested 100,000 euros ($110,000) in the wind turbines,” he said. “Every year, I get about six percent of this amount as profit.”
Village mayor Arno Zengerle, 59, stressed that “the participation of the citizens is the most important thing”.
“They must profit from the renewable energy. If only private investors from the outside took part, it wouldn’t work.”
So far business has been good. Last year, the village produced five times more electricity than it consumed.
The goal for this year is to raise that ratio to seven-fold. Continue Reading »
By: Alissa Mallinson
The air was hot and gritty. Shehazvi had to squint to see past the sun into the edge of town, past the cars and motorcycles whizzing by, past the scorched earth, to where old buildings stood beautiful in their own way, muted pinks and oranges still curving and curling in all the right places. No rain again today.
She and her daughter climbed out of the rickshaw and walked down the alley that leads to their home, 200 rupees lighter than when they left for Jalgaon city earlier that day. That’s how much it cost every time she took her daughter to the doctor for stomach pains. The culprit? The salty drinking water.
“Excessive salt intake can be quite detrimental to one’s health, both in the short and long term,” says Maulik D. Majmudar, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital.
But there is no grocery store in Shehazvi’s rural Indian village where she can stock up on bottled water. There is no on-demand tap of drinking water that’s already been prepared for her safety and comfort. There is no reliable electricity.
The Cost of Clean Water
Shehazvi is a teacher and resident of Mhasawad, a village of about 8,400 people that flanks the Girna River in Maharashtra, India. Unable to watch her daughter suffer further pains from drinking salty water, she recently started paying 30 percent of her monthly income to receive treated water from a reverse osmosis (RO) plant. With an average salinity 75 percent lower than that of the untreated town water, the treated water is worth the cost to Shehazvi.
“The water that is supplied is contaminated, and my daughter was always in pain,” she says. “I had to repeatedly take her to the doctor in Jalgaon, and it was very expensive. So I started buying filtered water. Now the stomachaches and the illnesses are gone.”
But despite the benefits, most of the residents of Mhasawad can’t afford RO water, from which bacteria and salt have been filtered out, and thousands of people in the village regularly drink water with a salinity level above 1,200 parts per million (ppm). To put that into perspective, the World Health Organization recommends levels under 600 ppm, and the water in Cambridge, Massachusetts, usually doesn’t get above 350 ppm at its worst.
“Everyone wants to drink the clean water,” Shehazvi says. “But what do they do if they can’t afford it? I only get paid 2,000 rupees per month and buying this water has been difficult.”
If the lower-income households can’t afford the RO-treated water, they definitely can’t afford the health costs associated with drinking salty water. One man living in Mhasawad says he spends around Continue Reading »