Prototype Belgian ‘drone bot’ can clean solar panels on roofs

More and more households are choosing to install solar panels on their roofs. But they do need to be cleaned every now and then for proper functioning and optimum yield. For example, it is not always easy because the panels are difficult to access. The Belgian startup ART Robotics is now working on a ‘drone bot’ that, in combination with a robot, can clean solar panels on roofs.

Clean tech

ART Robotics was founded in 2018 and is specialized in the application of Robotics, IoT & AI for sustainable energy solutions and recycling (clean tech). One of the innovations the company is working on is Helios, an automated cleaning system for solar panels.

The problem is that, over time, solar panels get covered in a layer of dust and dirt. This has a negative influence on the yield of the PV installation. For this reason, the panels must be cleaned every so often. At the moment, someone has to go up on the roof to physically clean the panels. Not only is this time-consuming, but the work is also not without danger.

Helios aims to change that. The system consists of an automatically flying drone, which a small robot – the Helios cleaning bot – can place on a panel. The robot then automatically cleans the panel. The robot even works at an angle and can cross from panel to panel on its own.

The idea is that the drone can always be used in different places and pick up cleaning robots. When the robot carts do the actual cleaning work; the drone does not have to be there. This way, one employee can clean up to eight different installations in one day.

Drone bot prototype

The challenges are many. To allow both the drone and robot to work autonomously, knowledge of image recognition, machine learning, embedded software, and mechatronics is required. The team has now completed the first prototype. It can only be dry cleaned. A version that can also carry cleaning products is planned for 2023. Then the company also wants to enter the market, first in , later also in the and Germany.

ART Robotics is still looking for parties that are interested in using the Helios. The company prefers to enter into partnerships with PV installers who want to deploy the system on the basis of a lease construction. ART Robotics then receives a percentage of the proceeds for each cleaning.

Brushing vs spraying

Incidentally, ART Robotics is not the only party working on a drone that can clean solar panels. The Israeli company is also working on a drone-based cleaning system. The difference is that the Airobotics drone makes no physical contact with the panels; instead, the drone sprays the panels clean, using a high-pressure cleaner.

Let us know what you think about the Belgian drone bot concept in the comments below. Do you think this is really feasible alternative? We are curious to hear your thoughts.

(cover photo: ART Robotics – via Solar Magazine)

Prototype Belgian 'Drone Bot' Can Clean Solar Panels On Roofs 1

This article first appeared on Dronewatch and is written by Wiebe de Jager who is also a DroneXL contributor.

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Wiebe de Jager

Wiebe de Jager (@wdejager) is the founder of Dronewatch and author of several bestselling books about drone photography. Wiebe is a certified drone pilot and has a full ROC license.

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