Solar panels don’t work efficiently if they’re not pointed at the sun. So most solar farms have panels mounted on pivots, and motor-driven mechanisms that keep them oriented correctly. It’s the obvious solution.
Except that motors break, are expensive, and are hard to install. So the startup Qbotix has designed a system where motors are instead inside on a robot on a monorail. The robot’s track takes it by each panel every ten minutes, where it mechanically connects its motor drive to gears on the mounts, and re-points the panels. The ten-minute interval is frequent enough for standard photovoltaic cells.
It may sound backwards to send a robotic riddler out to your solar farm to keep things adjusted, instead of doing things the sensible way. But according to CEO Wasiq Bokhari, using a robot means you can put a more reliable motor in the system and share it. You also greatly lower the cost of the panel mounts, which means you can use more, smaller panels instead of fewer, bigger ones. That saves money in installation and maintenance.
There are other examples of this infrastructure reversal. Kiva Systems‘ robots move entire shelves in warehouses to where products are needed. Google and Waze replace the need for traffic road sensors with the mobile phones that ride in cars.
Upending traditional systems requires not just technology but chutzpah. Because the initial reaction to such a concept is generally disbelief. That’s a good thing, if you think of it as competitive head start.
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