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Robot-Installed Solar Panels Cut Costs by 50%

Installing solar panels gets faster and cheaper with big German robots helping out

2 min read
Robot-Installed Solar Panels Cut Costs by 50%

Solar panels are obeying the will of Moore's Law by getting ever cheaper and more efficient. What's not getting cheaper or more efficient is the human labor required to install them. This keeps the cost of going solar higher than us duck-squeezing envirinmintl types would like, but robots are busy coming to our rescue by setting up solar power plants much cheaper and much, much faster.

Here's the executive summary, since I've never done an executive summary before and it sounds fancy: using robots to set up a 14 megawatt solar power plant can potentially cuts costs from $2,000,000 to $900,000, while being constructed in eight times faster with only three human workers instead of 35.

So there you go! If you're still reading, we can tell you a little bit about the robot that performs this incredible feat of engineering efficiency: it costs just under a million bucks, but it's built from off-the-shelf parts and in continuous use will supposedly pay for itself in either no time at all or less than a year, whichever comes last. And like all robots, using one of these things means you can get work done in rain or sleet or snow or darkness with no complaints, but if you find yourself installing solar panels where all of those things are occurring at once, you should probably just give up and go someplace, you know, sunny.

The robot itself has a mobile base that runs on tank treads, and a robot arm grips huge 145 watt panels one at a time and autonomously positions them in just the right spot on a pre-installed metal frame. Humans follow along behind, adding fasteners and making electrical connections, but secret plans are underway to roboticize these jobs too. Zee Germans, being big fans of solar power in their quest to go 80% renewable by 2050, are quite interested in putting robots like these to work, as are the Japanese, who want to construct solar farms near Fukushima within the next six months.

Via [ Tech Review ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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