Solar Impulse puts 3.6 million users in the virtual cockpit of the first solar-powered around-the-world flight using Google Cloud Platform

In March 2015, Solar Impulse set out on what seemed an impossible mission: To fly around the world using only solar power. Swiss co-founders and pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, together with their team, wanted to do it not just for the adventure and scientific challenge, but also to demonstrate the importance of clean technologies for sustainable development. They aimed to raise awareness that use of the plane’s technology on the ground could cut the world’s energy consumption in half and help fight climate change.

To ensure the flight would have maximum public impact, the Solar Impulse team decided to build a website to send live updates about the flight. Solar Impulse chose Google Cloud Platform to power the site because GCP scales to match web traffic and works well with other technologies, including YouTube which shows live coverage of the journey.

“Solar Impulse was not just a solar-powered airplane flying around the world. It was also a communication project to show what can be done using clean technologies.”

— Bruno Boehm, Deputy Head of Digital, Solar Impulse

Power a high-in-the-sky webshow

During the flight, the Solar Impulse website hosted live and recorded videos beamed from the plane, and tracked the progress of the 16-month, 26,000-mile journey, which included 17 separate flights and the world record for the longest solo endurance flight — 117 hours and 52 minutes. The site, developed by their partner La Souris Verte, also displayed real-time telemetry data about the aircraft as it attempted its solar-powered crossing, including flight time, solar energy produced and consumed, altitude, location and more. Five GoPro cameras streamed video from the plane’s wings, tail and cockpit. Developers constantly rotated the videos and data on the website to create a live viewing experience for those watching on the ground.

GCP was at the core of making all those flight details available. The company hosted 2.4 gigabytes of data generated by the video and telemetry feeds in Google Cloud Storage. Google App Engine powered the PHP framework which ran the website and handled load balancing and scaling. Google Cloud SQL was used store a variety of information, such as social network content. GCP also worked in concert with other Google technologies, including YouTube for streaming videos and Google Maps for displaying the plane’s location.

“Google Cloud Platform made it possible to handle the vast amounts of data the plane generated every day during its flight, so we could extend the experience of its flight to people on earth — thanks to the website, people could sit in the cockpit with the pilot and experience the power of clean tech,” says Nicolas Zanghi, lead developer, La Souris Verte.

Fast delivery of millions of page views and video streams

The Solar Impulse flight garnered a tremendous amount of publicity around the world, driving heavy traffic to its website. Because of GCP’s ability to handle massive amounts of traffic, site visitors could view videos without delays or downtime. Three and a half million unique users visited the site, which received 22 million page views. The Solar Impulse team shared 30 live video interviews from its cockpit and 28 million live video streams via YouTube and other channels.

“Solar Impulse accomplished its mission not just to fly around the world by solar power, but to spread the word about how there are no limits to what we can do with clean technologies. Google Cloud Platform ensured we got that our message out by powering a website that was stable and reliable,” says Solar Impulse co-founder and pilot Bertrand Piccard.