From golden beaches to the Golden Gate

© Solar Impulse | Revillard |

The combination of a pioneering mindset and cutting-edge technology lead to another extraordinary achievement.

“Hello, Silicon Valley” were Bertrand Piccard’s words, as he made his way gingerly out of the small Solar Impulse cockpit and onto the tarmac, after a 3 day, 2 night solo flight from Kalealoa airport in O’ahu, Hawaii.

What a way to start part 2 of the round-the-world mission, and what a contrast to the previous leg! That was the record-breaking 117 hour journey from Nagoya, Japan to Hawaii, full of nail-biting drama and emotion: weeks of waiting and some false starts, problems with the plane after take-off, engineers threatening to resign if the plane didn’t turn back and no guarantee that the pilot would have the stamina for such a long solo flight.

This time around, apart from a slight hiccup before take-off (a brief return to the hangar to wait for the wind to calm down), everything went smoothly from take-off to landing, with pilot Bertrand Piccard finding time to fit in a call from Ban-Ki Moon and a tour of the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco before leisurely (he hit an average speed of just over 65 km/h) making his way to Moffett Airfield, in the heart of Silicon Valley.

But the seeming ease of the flight belies the difficulty of the exercise: behind the pilot around 40 engineers and specialists are following his every move from the Mission Control Center (MCC) in Monaco, reading telemetry and using complex internet-based smart software to work out the ideal flightpath. The work of the MCC technicians underlines the importance of smart energy management on the ground. As André Borschberg said “Just imagine your energy reserves increasing during flight and available day after day! This is what we should be doing in our communities, our cities and our countries. To have a decentralized renewable energy production, using solar, thermal, wind.  To use efficient ways to store and manage energy, because the times at which we need it is not necessarily the times at which we produce it,”

This is exactly what ABB believes, and the recent opening of our Orchard Drive campus in San Jose underscores our commitment to digital technology. In the course of our history, we have already pioneered many digital breakthroughs, in control, protection and connectivity, and we are now leading in the development of the Internet of Things, Services and People. Grouping teams from such cutting-edge areas as robotics, Enterprise Software, Wireless and Los Gatos Research, cross-disciplinary collaboration will help us come up with fresh, innovative solutions to many of today’s energy problems. Today, with over 50% of its offerings software based, ABB can rightly claim its place in San Jose as a digital, Silicon Valley innovator.

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About the author

Conor Lennon

Formerly a broadcaster and communications consultant, I am currently based in Zurich as Global Special Projects Manager for ABB. I like to write about issues surrounding technology, sustainable development and society.
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