GENEVA -- An experimental solar-powered airplane took off from Switzerland on its first transcontinental flight Thursday, aiming to reach North Africa next week.
Pilot Andre Borschberg planned to take the jumbo jet-size Solar Impulse plane on its first leg to Madrid, Spain, by Friday. His colleague Bertrand Piccard will take the helm of the aircraft for the second stretch of its 2,500-kilometer (1,554-mile) journey to the Moroccan capital Rabat.
Fog on the runaway at its home base in Payerne, Switzerland, delayed the take off by two hours, demonstrating how susceptible the prototype single-seater aircraft is to adverse weather.
"We can't fly into clouds because it was not designed for that," Borschberg said as he piloted the lumbering plane with its 63-meter (207-foot) wingspan toward the eastern French city of Lyon at a cruising speed of just 70 kilometers an hour (43.5 mph).
Before landing in Madrid in the early hours of Friday, Borschberg will face other challenges, including having to overfly the Pyrenees mountains that separate France and Spain.
Just in case things go disastrously wrong, Borschberg has a parachute inside his tiny cabin that he hopes never to use. "When you take an umbrella it never rains," he joked in a satellite call with The Associated Press.
Piccard – the son of undersea explorer Jacques Piccard and grandson of balloonist Auguste Piccard – will have to cross the windy Straits of Gibraltar from Europe to Africa.
The team has been invited to Morocco by the country's King Mohammed VI to showcase the cutting edge of solar technology.
Morocco is about to start construction on a massive solar energy plant at Ouarzazate. The plant will form part of a country-wide solar energy grid with a capacity of 2000 megawatts by 2020.
The mission is described as the final dress rehearsal for a round-the-world flight with a new and improved aircraft in 2014. That trip will include stops in the United States, said Borschberg.
In 2010, the Swiss flew non-stop for 26-hour to demonstrate that the 12,000 solar cells attached to the aircraft can soak up enough sunlight to keep the plane airborne through the night. A year later, he took Solar Impulse on its first international flight to Belgium and France.
The project began in 2003 and is estimated to cost about $100 million over 10 years.
Google's Self-Driving Car
Google has transformed <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/03/google-self-driving-car-demo_n_831175.html" target="_hplink">ordinary Toyota Priuses</a> into hands-free vehicles, each equipped with a rotating camera, sensors and more. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/03/google-self-driving-car-demo_n_831175.html" target="_hplink">According to the AP</a>, the four-wheeled fleet "can steer, stop and start without a human driver." These so-called self-driving cars handle themselves so well that one has even been used to take a blind man for a joy ride (<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/29/google-self-driving-car-blind-man-taco-bell_n_1387930.html" target="_hplink">see video above</a>).
Terrafugia Transition - Flying Car
With its "Transition" car, Terrafugia proves that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/30/terrafugia-transition-fly_n_630578.html#s108243" target="_hplink">the future is finally here</a>. The operator of this amazing vehicle can drive it <em>and</em> fly it. The Transition has already been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly in the skies and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/09/terrafugia-transition-flying-car_n_893402.html#s305568" target="_hplink">by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to drive on roads</a>. If you happen to have a driver's license, pilot license, and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/03/terrafugia-transition-test-flight_n_1399267.html" target="_hplink">$279,000</a>, this car might be the one for you. The Transition was slated for consumer release in late 2011, but that date has been delayed and no new date has been announced.
Moller M200G Hover Car
If you happen to be a fan of "The Jetsons," you're going to love this. For about $125,000, you can get your hands on your very own M200G Hover-Car, thanks to Moller International, <a href="http://gizmodo.com/280546/moller-m200g-hover+car-in-production-and-selling-for-125k" target="_hplink">reported Gizmodo way back in 2007</a>. While the M200G is pretty cool to look at (even if the photo is a little retro), a sleek flying car called the <a href="http://moller.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=50&Itemid=58" target="_hplink">M400 Skycar</a> may be the company's next project (though so far there's been no word on how it's coming along.)
This futuristic-looking "supercar," the <a href="http://www.tramontanagroup.com/car/car.php" target="_hplink">Tramontana R</a>, is a product of European auto-maker <a href="http://www.tramontanagroup.com/adtramontana/adtramontana.php" target="_hplink">a.d. Tramontana</a> and <a href="http://www.tramontanagroup.com/adtramontana/adtramontana.php" target="_hplink">features</a> a carbon fiber body, a max speed of more than 200 mph, and a V12 engine that produces a maximum horsepower of 720. Unfortunately, all of these awesome specs (and the fact that it looks almost as cool as the Batmobile) have landed the car with a ridiculous price tag. <a href="http://www.forbes.com/2009/04/24/car-cool-model-lifestyle-vehicles-car-cool_slide_10.html?thisSpeed=undefined" target="_hplink">According to Forbes</a>, it costs upwards of $511,126, and only 12 are released each year.
BMW ConnectedDrive Connect
BMW's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/26/bmw-self-driving-car_n_1234362.html" target="_hplink">ConnectedDrive Connect system</a> can be installed in current BMW models and allows the car to drive itself. While at the moment the system operates only on pre-mapped roads, further developments will allow the car to adapt and drive on any street.
Audi's 2012 "super-luxury" vehicle is hailed as a standout in its class. <a href="http://usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/cars-trucks/Audi_A8/" target="_hplink">Writes U.S. News</a>, <blockquote>Test drivers say the A8's cabin is exceptionally crafted, and the standard MMI infotainment system now features Google Earth views on its navigation screen and available Wi-Fi connectivity, thanks to a SIM card in the A8's dash. Reviewers like the design and features inside the A8, but note that it packs less cargo space than many competing luxury sedans. Passenger space, on the other hand is ample. </blockquote> If it's anything like its predecessor, the Audi A7, which our own Jason Gilbert called a "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/16/2012-audi-a7-features_n_900788.html#s310151&title=Head_Up_Windshield" target="_hplink">tech-lover's dream</a>," the A8 is sure to win over drivers who have $75,704 to $130,192 laying around.
SARTRE And Volvo's Road Train
In partnership with the Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) program, Volvo is testing the "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/22/sartre-road-train-platoon-car_n_811632.html#s227279" target="_hplink">road train</a>" system, in which a lead vehicle pilots a column of cars down highways. The head car controls the others via Wi-Fi, allowing the drivers to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. <a href="http://www.autoblog.com/2012/01/24/sartre-autonomous-road-train-enters-final-phase-with-trio-of-vol/" target="_hplink">According to Autoblog</a>, the system is entering its final phase of testing and should be able to accomodate six vehicles by the year's end. No firm release date has been set.
Similar to the Terrafugia Transition, the PAL-V (or Personal Air and Land Vehicle) was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/02/flying-car-unveiled-in-ho_n_1397882.html?1333399106" target="_hplink">developed in Holland </a> and can reach speeds of up to 110 mph. Watch the video above to learn more!
Flying Hybrid Car
Pretty soon there will be a <em>hybrid</em> flying car on the market, too. While this Burt Rutan model has yet to be approved for regular use on the road, it is fueled by both electric motors and gasoline engines, so, whether driving or flying, you're traveling a little greener than the rest. [Via <a href="http://www.wired.com/autopia/2011/07/burt-rutan-designs-hybrid-flying-car/" target="_hplink">Wired</a>]
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/19/new-delorean-electric-version_n_1019222.html" target="_hplink">In October of last year</a>, the DeLorean Motor Company, makers behind the iconic DMC-12, used as the time machine in <em>Back to the Future</em>, announced an all-electric model for, well, the future. <a href="http://delorean.com/content/news/electric/dmcevpr.pdf" target="_hplink">According to a press release</a>, the company paired up with Epic Electric Vehicles to bring this well-known car back to life and plans to market it in the States in 2013.
Mitsubishi's i-MiEV is a cleaner alternative to city driving. <a href="http://i.mitsubishicars.com/miev/features" target="_hplink">According to Mitsubishi's website</a>, the i-MiEV features a lithium-ion battery system along with its motor and other engine components, a seating capacity of four, and a max speed of about 80 miles per hour. This super-green vehicle <a href="http://www.mitsubishi-motors.com/special/ev/4innovations/index.html" target="_hplink">recently clinched the top spot</a> on the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy's (ACEEE) 14th annual Greenest Cars List for 2012.