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Automated Heliostat Cleaning


In this series of interviews with the ENGS 90 groups this week we spoke to members of group 2 working on developing an innovative solution for cleaning of heliostats.

Heliostats- the shiny reflective surfaces which concentrate the sun’s power and use this to generate power, so what keeps them shiny? As of now its masses of trucks moving around washing and cleaning these surfaces, but what if it could all be automated? That’s precisely what group 2 of ENGS 90 is striving to achieve in their project.

To explain in more detail, heliostats are the devices which collect and focus the sun’s rays on to a heat exchanging liquid which is contained either in a tube structure along the length of the heliostats or in a central tower. This arrangement forms the core of the concentrated solar power technology- which is the most promising in terms of energy yield.

Group 2’s innovative solution for cleaning heliostats consists of an autonomous, highly specialized robot which is capable of mounting the heliostats and cleaning them. This project, like all others at Thayer, is a highly interdisciplinary project with the team comprised of members having backgrounds in different branches of engineering carrying out a wide variety of tasks.

The team’s tasks encompassed the whole gamut of engineering right from machining the metal parts, printing or fabricating the plastic components to programming and putting together the electronic control circuitry. All these activities were carried out from scratch in the machine shop, the large frame projects lab and other allied labs at Thayer.

Thomas described the major challenge the team faced as “designing the robot in such a way that it can successfully navigate all the obstacles which it will face on the field.” Further Benjamin described the process of writing reliable code for the robot as an additional challenge. Finally Callen and Alyson mentioned figuring out how the cleaning instruments should be optimally placed on the robot as a problem of concern on which they worked.

The team consists of Thomas Balch BE, Benjamin Blier ’13, Callen Votzke ’13, Anne Lape ’13 and Alyson Pickett BE.

Shown below are some pictures of the project team and their work.



Thanks for reading. Hope you’ve enjoyed it!

-Pavan R. Yerram



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