In order to keep solar panels operating as efficiently as possible, they need to stay clear of dust that may obscure the cells, which can be a problem for PV arrays that are installed at a low angle. Instead of sending out armies of cleaners to wipe the panels down, one company thinks it can be done with robots.
Mirai Machinery and Kagawa University, in Japan, have built a prototype of a self-propelled robot that can cling to the surface of solar panels and clean them, without using any water (which is another benefit, as many PV installations are being put up in arid regions).
According to their press release, the units are small enough for one adult to carry, and when they are placed on the panel, the robots will start at one corner and clean the entire panel automatically, using a special rotating brush.The prototype units have been tested at PV installations in the Middle East, to some success, and the company will be pursuing further development of the technology. The robots are said to run for two hours on a single charge, but no mention is made of whether they would include their own solar panel for self-charging (which would seem like a logical step).
Mirai currently makes a "Wall Walker" robot for window cleaning (seen above), which uses suction power to adhere to the surface and special drive wheels to move the units over the window automatically.