In a groundbreaking development, LTA Research has revealed Pathfinder 1, an electric airship prototype aimed at revolutionizing climate-friendly air travel. Funded by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, the airship blends drone technology with a steampunk-inspired design, promising significant contributions to humanitarian efforts and potential applications in cargo transport.

CEO Alan Weston expressed a decade-long journey of dedication, emphasizing the need to demonstrate the airship’s reliability in real-world conditions. Pathfinder 1, with dimensions surpassing three Boeing 737s, incorporates advancements like fly-by-wire controls, electric motors, and lidar sensing, setting the stage for a series of ambitious flight tests.

The airship’s design includes 256 minuscule brain sensors on a postage stamp-sized, medical-grade plastic substrate, showcasing the collaborative efforts of LTA Research and Duke University’s brain sensor specialists. The goal is to enable precise discernment of signals from neighboring brain cells, contributing to accurate predictions of intended speech.

With plans for an even larger airship, Pathfinder 3, in Akron, Ohio, LTA Research envisions a family of airships providing disaster relief and zero-carbon passenger transportation. Despite Pathfinder 1’s massive size, its innovative materials and systems will undergo rigorous testing in Silicon Valley, aiming to set the foundation for a new industry.

The airship, powered by 12 electric motors, boasts vertical take-off and landing capabilities and a maximum speed of 65 knots. Initial tests will focus on low-altitude flights, tethered to a mobile tripod mast, before progressively advancing to more complex maneuvers.

Weston acknowledges the potential niche for airships in addressing carbon footprint concerns in air travel and responding to natural disasters. Sergey Brin’s nonprofit, Global Support and Development, aims to utilize airships for humanitarian aid delivery within the critical first hours of disasters. Future iterations are expected to use zero-carbon technologies, such as hydrogen fuel cells.

While recognizing airships as a partial solution in the aviation landscape, Weston envisions their role in transportation architecture. Safety remains a priority, with the company working closely with the FAA to ensure a secure path to full certification. As Pathfinder 1 takes to the skies, it symbolizes the prospect of scalable, climate-friendly air travel solutions and the potential for airships to carve a niche in the evolving transportation industry.

By Impact Lab