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The pilots of Solar Impulse 2, the solar powered plane that completed a 43,000-kilometre (26,700-mile) journey around the world earlier this year, have other plans, the pair told a press conference in Geneva this week.
Their new project involves an unmanned version of Solar Impulse, aviator and engineer André Borschberg told reporters.
Borschberg and his business partner, Bertrand Piccard, had taken turns flying the aircraft in a mission controlled from headquarters in Monaco. Having showcased clean technologies, the Solar Impulse project now wants to provide a practical application for them, Piccard said.
The Swiss pioneers claim that an unmanned version of their craft could hover at altitudes relatively low compared to other pilotless craft such as satellites – about 20 kilometres (12 miles) above the earth – for months. Applications could include enhancing Wifi signals to poorly serviced areas or collecting agricultural data.
The Solar Impulse drone could do work “hardly done by other types of aircraft”, said Borschberg, who is Solar Impulse’s lead engineer. Piccard, an explorer who came up with the idea for the round-the-world flight, said that aside from working on a new aircraft, the Solar Impulse project would try to raise awareness about clean energies and their superiority to polluting fossil fuels.
Solar Impulse 2 circumnavigated the globe in 17 stages, with the final leg from Cairo to Abu Dhabi. Prince Albert is an enthusiastic supporter of Solar Impulse and was a frequent hands-on visitor to the Monaco command centre during the round the world flight.
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