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Solar truck to sail from soccer fields

Solar Ship

This marketing image shows how an envisioned solar powered cargo ship could transport goods and services to regions of the world without roads, landing strips, and refueling infrastructure.

A new breed of solar-powered flying truck is envisioned that can take off from and land on soccer fields, allowing the delivery of goods and services to regions of the world where no roads lead and few planes can land.

Fields big enough for a game of soccer are just about everywhere, reckons the team behind Toronto-based Solar Ship. The game is, after all, the world's most popular sport. It's played anywhere there's room to kick around a makeshift ball.

The company is building a fleet of delta-shaped ships that are a hybrid between airships and airplanes. They're filled with helium gas, but not enough to lift them off the ground. Solar panels on their body generate electricity from the sun and provide the power to drive them forward and into the air.

According to specifications, the ships can fly up to 1000 kilometers in a day under the power of the sun, haul up to 12 tons of cargo and reach a top speed of 85 kilometers per hour. The company recently announced the successful flight of its first prototype ship. 

A selection of clips from Solar Ship's test flights of its early prototype hybrid aircraft.

The video shows a helium-filled flying wing aircraft successfully taking off and landing. R&D continues to improve performance, attach solar panels and lightweight batteries. Further details on the status of the project are under wraps due to contractual obligations, a company representative told me.

Solar powered airplanes are nothing new. For example, in 2010 an aircraft called the Solar Impulse completed the first 24 hour flight, a feat that proved aircraft can collect enough energy during the day to stay aloft all night.

But the Solar Ship isn't really designed to compete against solar planes per se, which need a large runway to take off and land. Instead, they are more like delivery trucks designed to access areas with few roads, limited space to take off and land, and scant infrastructure to refuel.

In this sense, the prime competitor is the helicopter, but the range of whirlybirds is limited due to fuel requirements. 

A Solar Ship would have been helpful, for example, when the magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, Solar Ship CEO Jay Godsall told the Toronto Star.

It took eight days, he noted, for aid to reach the city of Jacmel. Roads from the capital, Port-au-Prince, were blocked and the airstrip and fueling infrastructure in Jacmel were too damaged to accommodate supply flights from Miami, the closest U.S. city.

"Nobody could land," Godsall told the paper. "If we could make a similar run, and do it here in Ontario, it would an irrefutable demonstration of our aircraft."

We'll have to wait a while longer for that demonstration flight. In the meantime, check out the Solar Ship website and the video below to learn more about the concept.

Solar Ship previews its first three commercial solar-powered aircraft that require no roads, no fuel, no infrastructure.

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John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.


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