Above is the Seawing, a giant parachute that French company Airseas believes could help massive cargo ships cut their fuel use and reduce carbon emissions. The 1,000 square-meter kite flies 300 meters above the water to catch wind and pull the boat across the ocean. The technology is currently being tested on a cargo ship crossing the Atlantic.
While boats have been powered by wind for millennia, the Seawing uses cutting-edge technology to make it fit for the 21st century. The kite is a parafoil, much like a kitesurfer's, and is launched via a foldable mast, which is also used to retrieve the kite and stow it away when it's not needed.
Its flight is controlled by autopilot software that operates from a box beneath the kite, which is in turn attached to the ship by a 700-meter-long cable that provides power and sends data to and from the vessel.
"What differentiates it from other wind solutions," says [Airseas co-founder/CEO Vincent] Bernatets, "is that the wing is not just pulled by the wind and countered by the ship." Instead, it flies in figure-of-eight loops, which multiply the pulling effect of the airflow to give what he calls "crazy power."
"Plus, we fetch the wind 300 meters above the sea surface, where it's 50% more powerful," adds Bernatets. The combination "explains why the power is tremendous for a system that is very compact, simple on the bow of the ship, and can be retrofitted on any ship, not just new ships," he says.