Dr. Bertrand Piccard took the stage here at Le Web 2010 to talk about his ongoing efforts to build fuel-less planes with a modest statement, “If you don’t read the NY Times you have never heard of Solar Impulse.”
Solar Impulse founder Piccard comes from a long line of pioneers, his father led the first flight in the stratosphere in 1931. On this Piccard elaborated, “Pioneering spirit is something that everyone else says is impossible, until everyone says it was obvious.”
The idea for Solar Impulse came from a promise that Piccard made to himself that he would complete a flight “with solar power, batteries with whatever, but with no fuel.” Like any risk-taking entrepreneur, Piccard is extremely hopeful about the prospects of fuel alternatives, “We have technology today that allow us to reduce our consumption of oil by at least 50%. And it’s possible.”
The big ideas inspired by the existence of a solar plane is the most important part of the whole project Piccard emphasized. It is an ambitious to say the least endeavor to try to make the world a little less dependent on fossil energy, especially since the price of oil is currently at $88 a barrel. “New technologies are vital for the future, but much more than that. So many people are not pioneers. Relying on habits is what we have to kill.”
Because the construction of the plane was so out of the ordinary, Piccard revealed that no tradition airplane construction firms would take it at first. In order for the whole no fuel schtick to work according to his calculations, the plane’s body needed to be 64 meters long and 1600 kilos (less than two tons), not an easy project. So he went to people who had no idea about airplanes.
Receiving funding from Omega, Solvay and Deutsche Bank in return for the privilege of getting their names on a side of a solar powered plane among other things, the Solar Impulse team now has over 70 people. One of the primary reasons Piccard is speaking at Le Web this year is to get more people to join the family. “If we don’t invent the future than we won’t make it to the next generation without some disaster.”
“Now we have something to show, we have an airplane,” said Piccard. But it’s more than a plane he insists again, “It’s a demonstration of what can be achieved if we manage to think out of the box and implement adventure in our daily lives.”