New hexacopter crawls up and down solar panels to remove all dirt

The hexacopter design can access difficult-to-reach places.
Loukia Papadopoulos

To work at peak efficiency, solar panels need to be kept neat and tidy. Dust and debris need to be removed regularly, but solar panels are often hard to reach.

Back in December, a joint effort between Israeli solar farm services company Solar Drone and Israeli drone manufacturer Airobotics developed drones capable of cleaning these hard-to-reach solar panels without damaging them.

Their website said that their new fully autonomous model "addresses the problem of dust and sand build-up on panel surfaces, located on any surface, under all weather conditions (and) reduces cleaning costs by at least 25%, because of the unique and efficient cleaning methods."

Cleaning all the dirt

It wasn't clear, however, if the drones would have direct contact with the panels meaning not all the dirt would be cleaned. Now, a Belgian startup ART Robotics has developed a system called Helios that addresses this issue by combining a flying hexacopter and a robot that crawls directly up and down solar panels.

"Helios is an automated cleaning service for solar panels. It’s a fully autonomous system that can access difficult-to-reach places and eliminates dangerous and costly work," writes the firm's website. 

How does it work? 

The hexacopter flies up toward the solar panel carrying the robot with it on its back. It then uses computer vision to spot the panel's location proceeding to release the robot onto it. Using a rotating brush and a vacuum, the robot goes on to clean all the solar panels.

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The coolest part comes when the robot is done removing the dirt. At that stage, the robot autonomously sends a wireless signal to the hexacopter which then returns to the solar panel to pick up the robot and carry it back to its initial location. 

Autonomous processes

All these processes are performed autonomously with a supervisor moderating every step in case a glitch happens and he/she needs to manually interfere. If this description has tickled your fancy, ART Robotics has set up a Kickstarter campaign to get their product going. Perhaps solar-fanatic Elon Musk would want to invest?