If you’ve noticed in the image of the solar panels in their natural habitat (my backyard) you’ll see that much of it is shaded. This isn’t always the case, however it’s very much the case after mid-August once the sun has declined enough in the sky and the foliage from the trees is in its fullest bloom.
This presents a problem for those that might be in slightly more wooded areas that still would want to use the power of the sun to gather electricity. So how does one get around that?
Cells could be mounted higher, certainly, but that might be an impossibility for land that’s surrounded by very tall trees. Cells could be spread out to various sunny areas, but they’re not going to be efficient as they’ll most likely only be in sunny areas for part of the year. Additionally, spreading them out means longer wires being run and an increase in power loss along this wiring. Plus, solar panels get pretty gross over time and they need to be accessible enough to give a good cleaning.
So let’s make a solar panel that goes where the sun is. The concept goes like this:
- An array of batteries is stored in a housing, all of equal physical size and capacity
- A robotic arm takes a discharged battery out of the housing and places it on a mobile bot
- The robot navigates the land using GPS, radio communication to a central server, and various sonar/infrared sensors to avoid obstacles and find a nice sunny spot.
- It parks on the spot and deploys a solar panel to charge the battery it’s been assigned, along with its internal power source.
- Once charged, it navigates back home where the robotic arm takes the fully charged battery and places it back in the bank.
- It then loads another discharged battery onto the bot and the cycle repeats.
Seems simple enough, right? Doesn’t seem economically practical at all unless the swarm of bots doing this is big enough. Probably still isn’t a break-even point in there. Don’t care, it’s neat. So let’s get started.
This is the basic construct for a platform that will bear the weight of the battery. It will not have a motorized drive-train as there would be a huge draw of power just bearing the weight of what is above it. It’s made up of a few parts from a Tamiya Tracked Vehicle Chassis. For this project I used a total of three of them. They’re about $15 a pop on eBay.
Through this base I run two 3/16″ smooth and one 1/8″ threaded rods. This will connect to the drive trains and allow it to move closer and further from them, allowing the power of the chassis and the weight of the battery as an anchor to articulate the panel.
Here it is tied to the chassis, each of these have a drive train and motors attached.
A motor is attached to the back with gearing to turn the threaded rod which is held in place at the connection point to the drive train chassis, articulating back and forth respective to the circuit’s polarity.
The wiring is snugged inside of some acrylic tubing and housed above to keep things nice and neat. What isn’t pictured at this point is an additional drive-train attached to the front and mounting brackets for the panel. Because I’m lazy and didn’t take any more pics.
The battery you’ll notice has securing brackets. These are spring-loaded so that lifting the battery swings them away from the terminals and lowering the battery connects it to the terminals automatically. Once complete, the system will detect a power-on with the connection of the battery, secure it with additional articulating power-driven latches (not pictured, but done) and run some self-tests.
Time to see how this thing handles the backyard terrain. As I’m writing this I know the results of said tests but you’ll just have to wait until I get around to telling you about them.