Solar panels need regular cleaning to ensure they are working at their optimum efficiency, and spraying them with the hose from the ground or relying on a heavy downpour won't necessarily get the job done. Like the windows on your house, they need to be scrubbed and polished for maximum effect. Enter Scrobby, a solar-powered, autonomous robot prototype designed to keep domestic solar panels clean and clear.
Designed to wash and scrub solar panels positioned at angles of up to 75 degrees, just one Scrobby is purported to be able to clean a solar array measuring up to 10 x 20 m (32.5 x 65 ft) – and this is only because its wire tether will only stretch that far.
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The wire tether, however, is only for safety so that Scrobby has no chance of falling off the roof and destroying itself or, worse, hitting some unsuspecting passer-by on the head. Scrobby actually takes user commands from an app contained on a smartphone or tablet and also sends details of its schedule to the same app via Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity.
Cleverly, the makers claim that – once installed – Scrobby requires neither external power nor water to run as it collects both from the environment. It has a solar panel to charge its batteries, but the clever part is that it has a collector on its docking station to catch rainwater, meaning that it can be a truly independent and autonomous device.
As such, after installation, the first rainfall sufficient to fill its tank will prompt the unit to start cleaning and also to map its environment to learn the dimensions of the panel on which it is located. After this, Scrobby will then continue to consult its inbuilt schedule to clean the panels regularly, as required.
Changeable through the previously mentioned app, the standard setting means that Scrobby will initiate three total panel cleans per year, which is considered an adequate amount in normal situations. Of course, this can be overridden via the app for particularly dusty areas or in case of unusual atmospheric conditions, such as heavy pollution.
While there are other solar panel-cleaning robots on the market, such as the Eccopia E4 robots employed to clean dusty solar plants in the Israeli desert, these are generally large, industrial-type devices that are meant for commercial installations. Scrobby, on the other hand, is aimed at capturing the domestic market, with the software controlling it being made available for developers to play with.
Scrobby is the subject of a Kickstarter campaign, with early bird backers able to put their hands up for a pre-production Scrobby assembly kit for €269 (US$348) and an estimated delivery date of February 2015 if all goes to plan. The creators also hope to have a retail starter kit out by May 2015 with a price of €2,390 (US$3,092) for 10 units. Scrobby is set to be available in just one color – white – so as to reduce heat stress on the electronic components inside and make the unit last longer.
The short video below shows Scrobby in action.