When Bertrand Piccard was co-piloting his solar-powered plane around the world, he took a moment to marvel at the sun. It was powering the motors and propellers without producing any pollution.

“At a certain moment I thought ‘this is science fiction, I’m in the future.’ And then I realised, ‘no, it’s wrong, I’m in the present; this is what the technologies of today already allow me to do,” he said.

The solar-powered plane was made possible with tech from Dassault Systèmes, a company that develops collaborative solutions using both 3D visualisation and simulation technologies. This way, innovators can explore all possibilities in a virtual world first, before bringing their ideas into reality.

Solar-powered flight

Between 2015 and 2016, the Solar Impulse 2 covered roughly 40,000 km, traversing the globe without needing a single drop of fuel. It demonstrated the possibilities for clean energy to completely transform how we fly today, which currently puts great strain on the environment.

But there were some incredibly unique challenges to building a solar plane that could fly day and night, not just when the sun was out. It needed 17,000 solar panels, and an extremely wide wingspan – greater than a Boeing 747 – but it had to be lightweight, about as light as a car.

It was simply not possible to build prototypes for testing within the time and cost constraints. The team created a virtual simulation of the plane first, so that it could be built for success in the physical world. Dassault Systèmes’ applications also helped engineers to design lighter plane parts and a more comfortable cockpit for the pilots.

Rennes in 3D

Just like the aviation industry, the cities of the future need to grow sustainably, especially as rapid urbanisation takes its toll on the environment. But cities are complex organisms, and urban planners need to consider many interconnected factors in their work.

Cities must be better designed so they can grow sustainably, believes Masaki Sox Konno, Managing Director of the company’s business in Asia Pacific South. This involves “making sure that the city stays beautiful while adding new buildings and roads and all the different systems that you would do as the city expands?” he tells GovInsider.

Rennes in France has developed a digital twin of the city using Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCity technology. The city is the second fastest growing metropolitan area in France, making it a challenge to coordinate and plan services, buildings, utility networks, and transport systems.

On top of this, the city needs to ensure clean air and water, and safety for its people. Its population demographic is greatly diverse as well, with over 65,000 students living and studying in the city.

Virtual Rennes is rich with data which updates in real time. In the virtual world, urban planners, engineers and officials collaborate and simulate how new initiatives will play out as the city evolves. With this kind of insight, teams can design for liveability and resilience for decades into the future.

“Rennes’ city stakeholders can connect and interact across social, economic, political and disciplinary boundaries to experience and understand the possibilities and choices that will improve the quality of life in their city,” Olivier Ribet, Dassault Systèmes’ Vice President of High-Tech Industry, said in a statement.

Discovering future industries

Beyond sustainable cities, economic engines need to be sustainable as well. The world is seeing an ‘industry renaissance’, with some ailing industries slowly dying out and others springing up in their place. In Adelaide in South Australia, major automotive companies have closed down factories, and traditional industries are feeling the effects of disruption. “With the exit of the automobile industry, there needs to be a sustainable economy. What is that new industry or industries? ” wonders Konno.

“With the exit of the automobile industry, there needs to be a sustainable economy.”

Dassault Systèmes is helping the city bring fresh ideas to tackle future challenges. The Virtual Shipyard platform is helping SMEs in the shipping industry to cut costs and improve on their manufacturing methods. The University of Adelaide also works closely with the company to produce graduates that will have industry-relevant skills.

The city’s mining industry, which hasn’t changed in decades, is seeing a reimagination. The virtual world is enabling mine owners and operators to improve on safety, environmental impact and energy efficiency.

“It’s a rebirth of the industry for a better life for the worker, or better efficiency using the best technologies of the world,” Konno explains. “And the combination of what we do in education and what we do in the industry creates the workforce of the future.”

A holistic sustainability vision

Naturally, within Dassault Systèmes itself, there is a strong, holistic commitment to sustainability. At the start of this year, the company was ranked first in the 2018 Top 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World (Global 100) index by Corporate Knights magazine.

It was recognised for reducing its environmental footprint, while also developing the workforce of the future and defining new business models. “When you see that we have been elected as the most sustainable company in the world, you better understand what is behind our vision and strategy”, Forestier remarks.

Today, only a handful of people can say that they have flown on a solar-powered plane. But imagine a future where that is part of everyday life – and in fact, only the beginning.

Images by Solar Impulse and Dassault Systèmes