The Other Cross-U.S. Solar Plane Trek

In July, the Solar Impulse completed a cross-country photovoltaic flight. Eric Raymond and his Sunseeker did it more than 20 years ago

8 min read
The Other Cross-U.S. Solar Plane Trek
Steering the Sunseeker: Eric Raymond piloted the Sunseeker across the United States in 1990.
Photo: Solar Flight

Last month, the photovoltaic-powered plane Solar Impulse completed its six-stage, two-month journey across the United States. It wasn’t quite Armstrong on the moon or Lindbergh in Paris, but it was still a rather significant aeronautical achievement.

What’s often forgotten is that the Solar Impulse wasn’t the first solar plane to cross the United States. In the summer of 1990, 23 years ago, the Sunseeker performed a similar feat. Designed and flown by Eric Raymond, then a 33-year-old California engineer, Sunseeker flew across the country, making 21 stops over the course of a summer, spending 121 hours in the air.

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Self-Driving Cars Work Better With Smart Roads

Intelligent infrastructure makes autonomous driving safer and less expensive

9 min read
A photograph shows a single car headed toward the viewer on the rightmost lane of a three-lane road that is bounded by grassy parkways, one side of which is planted with trees. In the foreground a black vertical pole is topped by a crossbeam bearing various instruments. 

This test unit, in a suburb of Shanghai, detects and tracks traffic merging from a side road onto a major road, using a camera, a lidar, a radar, a communication unit, and a computer.

Shaoshan Liu

Enormous efforts have been made in the past two decades to create a car that can use sensors and artificial intelligence to model its environment and plot a safe driving path. Yet even today the technology works well only in areas like campuses, which have limited roads to map and minimal traffic to master. It still can’t manage busy, unfamiliar, or unpredictable roads. For now, at least, there is only so much sensory power and intelligence that can go into a car.

To solve this problem, we must turn it around: We must put more of the smarts into the infrastructure—we must make the road smart.

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