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Friday, February 22, 2013

Green energy for solar robots

Credit: NREL
According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL of the U.S. Department of Energy the price per Watt of solar modules (not counting installation) drop from $22 dollars in 1980 down to under $3 today. If it continues for 20 years, which is well within the realm of scientific and technical possibility, then we’ll have a green power source half the price of coal for electricity. Robots will not only help to bring down costs for installation and maintenance of solar power plants but also become more and more solar powered.

Solar plant robots 

Building open area solar parks is mostly manual work. Identical processes are repeated hundreds of thousands of times. German PV-Kraftwerker have been looking into automation options for some time and has presented a robot called Momo, designed to install solar panels at ground mount solar farms.
Credit: PV Kraftwerker
Momo includes a "gripper" system, equipped with sensors, which the company says enables the automated assembly of modules on mounting systems in a range of terrain. The robot also features a three-dimensional camera, which captures the assembly process of the modules and adjusts deviations from the defined standard to the millimeter. PV Kraftwerker notes that this allows assembly around the clock, regardless of weather conditions. The robot moves to the designated site carrying the solar panels required and installs the modules using a sensor-equipped gripper system.  The robot can also disassemble PV plants, operating in reverse order.
Credit: PV Kraftwerker
The company says Momo can carry out automated assembly of modules on support racks in any terrain. Working off a software program detailing the solar farm's design, the module installation process can be repeated 100,000-times and the robot can cover up to 70 kilometres per assembly. Momo can reportedly work in any weather. The company claims that two robots can do the work of the 250 labourers needed to build a 100-megawatt PV power plant.

Robotic solar plant

QBotix, based in Menlo Park, CA, employs distributed robotics to significantly increase the economics and improve the capabilities of the solar industry. The company is composed of solar industry veterans and robotics innovators from Silicon Valley, MIT, Caltech and Stanfordand has so far raised $7.5 million funding from New Enterprise Associates, Firelake Capital, Siemens Venture Capital, and DFJ JAIC.
Credit: QBotix
In 2012 the company has unveiled the QBotix Tracking System™ (QTS), a comprehensive dual-axis tracking system that employs rugged, intelligent and mobile robots to dynamically operate solar power plants and maximize energy output. QTS provides the higher performance and energy output of dual-axis tracking at conventional single-axis tracking prices. QTS increases the energy production of ground-mounted solar power plants by up to 40 percent over existing fixed mount systems and lowers the Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) by up to 20 percent. In addition, QTS offers fast installation, has low operations and maintenance costs, and is compatible with all solar panels and mounting foundations.
Solbot is an autonomous, rugged and mobile robot that can manage up to up to 300 kW PV array. It automatically travels to each tracker, returning in regular 40 minutes intervals to make precise adjustments. Solbot is intelligent, providing real-time information to optimize your solar array and maximize system availability. Certified waterproof and dustproof through IP-65 rating, and designed to operate in extreme conditions, each Solbot is quality-manufactured in the United States for outstanding durability.

Solar powered Mars rovers record - 8 years, 301 days

Previous Mars missions have relied on solar panels to power the rovers. NASA's twin robot geologists, the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) Spirit and Opportunity, launched toward Mars on June 10 and July 7, 2003, in search of answers about the history of water on Mars. They landed on Mars January 3 and January 24 PST, 2004 (January 4 and January 25 UTC, 2004). While Spirit became immobile in 2009 and ceased communications in 2010, Opportunity remains active as of 2013, having already exceeded its planned 90 sol (Martian days) duration of activity by 8 years, 301 days (in Earth time). Opportunity has continued to move, gather scientific observations, and report back to Earth for nearly 35 times its designed lifespan. 
But exploration was slowed down by dust build-up on the solar panels or short winters days with little sunlight. The SUV-sized rover, Curiosity, launched in late November 2011 and landed on Mars in August 2012, is now powered by a nuclear generator, that delivers both heat and 110 watts of steady electric power from an array of iridium capsules holding a ceramic form of plutonium dioxide. 

Solar powered UAVs

Credit: NASA Helios
The NASA Pathfinder, NASA Pathfinder Plus, NASA Centurion and NASA Helios Prototype were an evolutionary series of solar- and fuel-cell-system-powered unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) developed by AeroVironment, Inc. under NASA's Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) program. They were built to develop the technologies that would allow long-term, high-altitude aircraft to serve as "atmospheric satellites", to perform atmospheric research tasks as well as serve as communications platforms. On August 13, 2001, Helios demonstrated its capability when it reached an unofficial altitude record for non-rocket-powered aircraft of 96,863 feet. Unfortunately, on June 26, 2003 during a test flight over the Pacific Ocean near Kauai, Hawaii the Helios prototype was lost due to a structural failure caused by control problems.

UAV world record - 336 hours, 21 minutes

Credit: QinetiQ, Zephyr
QinetiQ in the UK developed the Zephyr family of solar-electric-powered unmanned air vehicles with the UK Ministry of Defence, under a jointly funded programme. The Zephyr high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) autonomous unmanned system can provide high-quality surveillance data over large areas in real time. The system is capable of capturing and disseminating information, while operating at altitudes of more than 18km. Solar panels power the aircraft and charge lithium batteries which keep it flying at night. In 2010 Zephyr, successfully landed after 14 days (336 hours) and 21 minutes flying over Arizona - a new world record for solar powered UAV.

The patent pending Silent Falcon™ is a solar/electric, all composite, modular small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) designed for both military and public safety applications. With Silent Falcon’s™ solar electric propulsion system, rugged composite structure, and three interchangeable wing configurations, it is the first sUAS capable of meeting both man-portable and long-endurance ISRT mission profiles. It can be easily adapted to fit other mission profiles that require industry leading flight endurance and communications capabilities to cast a broad coverage net over single or multiple units in the field.

DARPA SolarEagle 2014

Credit: DARPA, SolarEagle
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Vulture program, which aims to develop and demonstrate technology to enable a single high-altitude unmanned airplane (UAV) to operate continuously for a period of five years, has entered phase II. Under the terms of an US$89 million contract, Boeing will develop a full-scale demonstrator called the SolarEagle that will make its first demonstration flight in 2014. The aircraft will have highly efficient electric motors and propellers and a high-aspect-ratio, 400-foot wing for increased solar power and aerodynamic performance. Under the Vulture II agreement, Boeing will develop a full-scale flight demonstrator, including maturation of the critical power system and structures technologies. Key suppliers for the program include Versa Power Systems and QinetiQ.
During testing, the SolarEagle demonstrator will remain in the upper atmosphere for 30 days, harvesting solar energy during the day that will be stored in fuel cells and used to provide power through the night.

Solar powered AUVs

Credit: FSI
Falmouth Scientific, Inc. (FSI), based in Cataumet, MA, has developed SAUV II, a solar-powered autonomous undervater vehicle  providing extended mission endurance on the surface or at depths up to 500 meters. On-board rechargeable lithium-ion batteries provide maximum mission endurance even under conditions where minimal solar radiation is available. The SAUV is designed as a multi-mission platform to allow payload configuration by the end-user to optimize the SAUV for coastal/harbor monitoring, data portal (to moored sub-surface instruments) applications, or any other application where long-term deployment is required.

AUV world record - 9,000 nautical mile

Credit: Liquid Robotics
Liquid Robotics, Inc, based in Sunnyvale, CA, has developed the Wave Glider, the first wave-powered autonomous marine robot with solar panel for battery charging, onboard electronics & payloads. By sourcing all the energy it needs from its environment, the robot “can travel to a distant area, collect and transmit data in real-time via satellite or short-range radio, and then return for maintenance without ever requiring a ship to leave port.
In January 2009, long endurance testing began when a Wave Glider completed a nine-day circumnavigation of Hawai’i's Big Island. Later that year, a pair of Wave Gliders journeyed from Hawai’i to San Diego, an 82-day trip that covered more than 2,500 miles. Since then, Wave Gliders have covered over 250,000 nautical miles, and collected data for dozens of scientific, commercial and security applications.
In December 2012 PacX Wave Glider named “Papa Mau”, completed his 9,000 nautical mile (16,668 kilometers) scientific journey across the Pacific Ocean to set a new world record for the longest distance traveled by an autonomous vehicle. Throughout his journey, Papa Mau navigated along a prescribed route under autonomous control collecting and transmitting unprecedented amounts of high-resolution ocean data never before available over these vast distances or time frames.

Solar powered lawn mower

Credit: Husqvarna, Automower Solar Hybrid
In 2008 Swedish Husqvarna was first to launch a solar powered robotic lawn mower. The Husqvarna Automower Solar Hybrid gets energy from the 12-watt photovoltaic solar cell panel attached to its back. It uses no fuel or oil as a power source. When the sun is shining, the mower uses solar energy instead of battery power. When the battery does need a little juice, the mower automatically finds its way to the charging station via a signal emitted by the station. The mower senses the signal when it's within 20 to 23 feet (6 to 7 meters) of the station. The charging station is electrically powered and connects to a transformer that in turn plugs into a 120-volt wall socket. Overall, the setup uses about the same amount of energy as a standard incandescent light bulb.

Unmanned Solar Vehicles Challenge 

The world´s first contest for unmanned solar-powered ground vehicles, Unmanned Solar Challenge, was held in Oct 2012 at Korea Automobile Testing & Research Institute, KATECH. Total of eight vehicle competed in short and long distance tracks.
Check out the promotion video below.

Solar powered robot toys

For those of you looking to teach your kids about the importance and fun behind solar energy, the 6 in 1 Solar Powered DIY Robot Toy Assembly Kit from OWI would be a perfect gift. It comes with everything you need to build six different toys that all function with the power from the included solar panel.


Maria said...

I wonder how popular are these solar power plants now. They are being used not just for commercial purpose but people are using it for residential purpose also.
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WoHe said...

Check the list of solar thermal power stations at Wikipedia: Concentrating Solar Power (CSP), Photovoltaics, summary of installed photovoltaic and more detailed data for some countries.

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