Tune-in to GalcoTV’s Industry Update each week for the latest in electronics, engineering and industrial news. In this edition, Solar Impulse 2 completes its first trip around the globe, Facebook launches Aquila for its first test flight and a new report suggests the end to Moore’s Law.
Two major breakthroughs in solar-powered avionics were announced in July.
The Solar Impulse 2 completed the final leg of the first entirely solar-powered flight around the world, and Facebook’s Aquila drone completed its first test flight.
Solar Impulse 2 has been on its journey for over a year, and on July 26, landed in Abu Dhabi to complete its trip around the globe. The 17-stage journey covered 26,000 miles, crossing four continents, three seas and two oceans.
Along the way, Solar Impulse 2 set 19 official aviation records, including the world’s longest non-stop solo flight last July. Using only energy from the Sun, the plane traveled for 4 days, 21 hours and 52 minutes to get from Japan from Hawaii.
Solar Impulse 2 can be recognized by its wacky dimensions. It’s wingspan is longer than a Boeing 747’s, but it weighs just 5,000 pounds. Powered by over 17,000 solar cells, the plane’s average flight speed is just 43 miles per hour.
ABB was a major financial contributor to the Solar Impulse project, and provided dedicated engineers to help with certain electrical solutions as well. ABB updated electrical devices on the plane to ensure the solar panels produced as much electrical energy as possible, worked on the cockpit battery to ensure the pilot’s control systems were reliable, and managed the electrical system for Solar Impulse’s mobile hangar.
The journey is a historic one, and Solar Impulse claims this is just the beginning.
In another bit of solar-powered flight news, Facebook recently announced that its Aquila aircraft completed its first test flight on June 28 in Yuma, Arizona.
Aquila is a high-altitude unmanned aircraft powered, like Solar Impulse 2, by solar energy. Facebook planes to use Aquila drones to bring affordable internet to hard-to-reach places across the globe.
Aquila will be able to circle a region up to 60 miles in diameter, beaming “connectivity” to Earth from an altitude of 60,000 feet using lasers and wave systems.
The drone’s wingspan is larger than a Boeing 737, and it weighs just 1,000 pounds. It will fly at speeds up to 80 miles per hour, and because it uses just 5,000 watts of power to fly at the cruising altitude of 60,000 feet, it will able to stay in the air for 90 days at a time.
The full-scale testing stages have only just begun, but Facebook plans to break aviation records as well, including the record for the longest unmanned aircraft flight.
In semiconductor news, Moore’s Law may be reaching the end of the line.
Moore’s Law is the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years.
According to the Semiconductor Industry Association, that trend will end in 2021.
Their recent report – the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors – claims the 2021 is the year that it will no longer be feasible to continue shrinking transistors for use in microprocessors.
Moore’s Law – named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, who predicted the phenomenon in 1965 and revised his prediction to its current standard in 1975 – is used by semiconductor industry to set benchmarks for research and development. It helps companies like Intel, IBM and Micron figure out where they are in the production, and where they need to be in the future.
In order to fit more transistors on a silicon chip, the transistors must shrink. But by 2021 “we will have exhausted all the various tricks that people have been using to create finer and finer geometries on silicon wafers,” said Eric Hansel, chief analyst at 451 Research.
Chip makers will instead experiment with new transistor designs, vertical geometries and 3D structures to get more processing power out of a small space. Filling 3D space is an approach already used to make memory devices, which combines layering and other processes to create high-density structures.
But silicon wafers have to be processed several more times to do this, each step introducing a greater potential for alignment error that renders a chip useless. There is also an increased cost.
Hansel also believes that the end of Moore’s Law will drive a shift toward dispersed computing. Tapering the size of integrated circuits does not mean fabrication efficiency will stagnate. Cheaper production costs that leverage the Internet of Things will put huge processing power into technologies that are otherwise cost prohibitive today.
Hansel believes that that is the larger revolution that continues.