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Engineering students partner with Greek firm to invent robotized cleaning system for solar panels

12/11/08

A group of Northeastern University mechanical and industrial engineering students have designed a groundbreaking, robotic cleaning system for solar panels that has been submitted for a patent.

Students developed the prototype for start-up firm Green Project, based in Athens, Greece, which specializes in sustainable technology and energy solutions.

Solar panels, popular for their environmentally green and money-saving capabilities, have a drawback – they must remain clear of dirt and debris, which blocks sunlight. Blocked light can lead to 20 percent power loss over the course of two months.

The prototype system is automated to clean and maneuver on glass solar panels.

The technology, called “Robotic Device for Cleaning Photovoltaic Panel Arrays,” was developed by engineering students Jeremy Hastie, Andrew Sweezey, Ashton Grandy and Mark Anderson. They were assigned the project in their Capstone Design Course and worked under the direction of engineering professor Constantinos Mavroidis, director of the Biomedical Mechatronics Laboratory, and graduate student Richard Ranky.

The course is a senior-level, team project that requires students to use their engineering knowledge to solve a real-world engineering problem or to develop a viable product.

“I am very impressed by the caliber of work executed by my students in the capstone course,” said Mavroidis. “This project truly demonstrated the efficiency of our senior capstone course in providing real-life, innovation-based experiential-learning to our students while offering fast, high-quality proof of concept prototyping to private companies.”

Mavroidis noted that the system they designed and implemented is simple and cost effective. “The lightweight design uses a belt pulley drive system and eliminates risk of damaging the solar panels,” he said. “Using only two people, the cleaning system can be set up in merely 15 minutes.”

The project also demonstrates how companies can save money by tapping into similar capstone  programs, said graduate student advisor Ranky.

“With current economic challenges, companies who cannot afford to set up new divisions for products should utilize the well of talent demonstrated by these students through industry-sponsored capstone projects,” he added. “In an international venue, it allows different groups to maximize their expertise while building relationships for a wider range of skills available.”

Industry-sponsor Green Project lauded Northeastern’s capstone course for it’s successful track record.

“We chose to work with students in the Capstone Design Course at Northeastern University because past projects done by them have proven to be successful for developing new technologies,” said Dr. Ioannis Markopoulos, design & engineering director at Green Project. “Green Project sets up solar parks in Greece and our clients were concerned about cleaning instruments. The system designed in the capstone course for automatically cleaning photovoltaic panels is a revolutionary technology that we plan to bring to the market.”

A patent has recently been filed for the robotized cleaning system and Green Project looks forward to developing the product for commercial use.

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