Atox Co Ltd developed an unmanned robot that checks the conduction state of solar panels by using sensors while autonomously moving on their glass covers.
Atox (Chuo Ward, Tokyo), which provides technical solutions for nuclear power plant maintenance and radioactive material management, developed the robot in cooperation with Nagaoka University of Technology, Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) and Togami Electric Mfg Co Ltd. The company aims to commercialize it in one year.
The robot automatically recognizes the stripe patterns on the panel surface by using a CCD camera to take their images and processing them while moving along interconnection lines. And it classifies the conduction states of lines connecting cells into "conducting," "observation needed" and "not conducting" and creates a map.
The robot can move on panels tilted up to 30° on clear days and up to 25° regardless of weather conditions. When it turns at a corner of a panel, it presses down a plate on the panel to lift up the main body so that it does not scratch the panel.
Atox performed a field test of the robot at a solar power generation site prepared by AIST and confirmed its basic performance. Currently, the company is engaged in research and development for putting the robot into practical use. It plans to develop inspection methods other than the continuity test and apply them to the robot as well as to eliminate cables by adding communication capability and reduce the size and weight of the robot.
Since the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, Atox has been engaged in operation of equipment for treating polluted water and radiation control at the station. In the Project for Establishing Technology Bases to Deal With Accidents at Nuclear Power Plants, etc for Fiscal 2012, the company developed a robot that adsorbs onto the suppression chamber (an area for the reactor container in the first basement of the reactor building, to which humans cannot come close) with a magnetic force and remotely controls water level inside the chamber.
Also, Atox developed remotely-controlled decontamination equipment for use in reactor buildings by itself. The new robot for inspection of solar panels was developed by using the expertise built up through the development of such robots.