The 2011 Solar Power International conference was held at Dallas Convention Center in Dallas, TX. That's so close, I had to stop by and check things out. Sure, most of what's there is large scale photovoltaic panels; some suitable for setting up solar power generation plants, others for on or off grid use on buildings. But there are also solar panels suitable for use in robotics. Adding solar cells or panels to a robot is good way to increase its autonomy and many ground, sea, and air robots are beginning to rely on them. Read on for more photos and info.
I found two companies that may be of particular interest to robot builders. First, MiniSolar, a South Korean company that makes a wide range of small photovoltaic cells and panels in a variety of sizes. They also make customized shapes and sizes of panels that would be ideal for use in robotics. They showed a custom shaped panel that doubled as a chassis for a simple robot with bump sensors.
The second interesting find was PowerFilm Solar, a US company that develops and manufactures thin film, flexible photovoltaic panels. There primary customer is the US Military but they're branching out into smaller applications including robotics.
I talked at length Fritz Meitzen, who was big into BEAM robots before joining PowerFilm Solar. He pointed out SolarFilm's PowerFilm OEM products (available through FlexSolarCells.com) as the ideal choice for custom robots. They even make a version called the WeatherPro series with waterproof, UV protected packaging for use on outdoor robots.
There were also quite a few examples of industrial robotics equipment aimed at photovoltaic cell manufacturers. You can check out more photos in my SPI 2011 Photo Gallery.