As more consumers buy electric-powered cars, more vehicle charging stations are popping up which are powered by the sun. But a commercially viable solar-powered car, experts say, is still very far down the road. And many engineers say the development of a solar-powered airliner is very unlikely because they don't believe it's possible to build an onboard system that can produce the massive amounts of energy required.
A few tinkerers are coming up with solar-powered scooters and pedal vehicles, like the Elf trike being sold in North Carolina.
Development of Solar Impulse may contribute to better designs of "long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles," as the Pentagon calls them. Engineers are developing giant solar-powered flying wings that are remote-controlled and designed to remain aloft at high altitudes for weeks, months, or even years -- nonstop. Such machines could be used for scientific research or surveillance, or as relay stations to transmit communication signals across long distances.
Piccard and Borschberg are looking forward to a future that includes more solar power. In the meantime, they'll be focusing on their plan to circle the globe and their current journey across America. That will include a stop in St. Louis, the hometown of aviation icon Charles Lindbergh.
"I think we share the same spirit," Piccard said of Lindbergh, the first pilot to solo across the Atlantic. Global excitement from that 1927 flight sparked the beginning of a "new cycle," Piccard said, which led to the international airline industry we enjoy today. Piccard hopes Solar Impulse will start a similar cycle that will lead to unimaginable new dimensions in the development of technology.