Almost a year ago, startup QBotix launched its unusual system that uses robots to tilt solar panels to face the sun as it moves across the sky throughout the day, thus maximizing the panels’ exposure to the sun’s rays. Now in timing with the large solar conference Intersolar in San Francisco on Tuesday, QBotix is showing off their next-gen solar robots, which can manage and tilt more panels than the first model, but which are smaller, lighter weight and have fewer pieces, making them easier to assemble.
QBotix’s robots, which represent an entirely new and potentially disruptive way of managing solar panels, are equipped with sensors, GPS and a wireless connection, and can continuously report back data about the panels to the solar project owner. Think about the system as a way to use robotics and IT technology to make solar panel farms more efficient.
The conventional technology used to tilt solar panels are called trackers, and they commonly prop up the solar panel and then tilt them throughout the day. For example, Apple (s AAPL) is using SunPower’s (s SPWRA) tracker tech for its new solar farm that will be built next to its data center in Reno, Nevada.
Trackers usually come with their own motors and electronics and can add significantly to the cost and complexity of solar projects. There’s generally two types of solar trackers, dual-axis trackers — which make finer tilts and are more expensive — and less expensive single-axis trackers.
QBotix said that its original robotic trackers (picture in the below photos) could perform dual-axis adjustments at the price of the same-sized single-axis trackers. The new robotic system (pictured in the above photos) — called the SolBot R-225 — can manage 340 kilowatts worth of panels, which is a 13 percent improvement of the original robotic system (SolBot R-200).
QBotix says that its robotic trackers have been deployed at five commercial scale solar farms in California, Arizona and Japan. The startup has raised $12.5 million from NEA, Firelake Capital, DFJ JAIC, and the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative.