It’s a simple enough robot: an ATV equipped with a robotic arm and few cameras. But it’s already stealing green jobs from humans. Its suction cups grab onto the glass face of huge, power-plant-grade solar panels and lift them onto a metal frame. One robot, with three human helpers, can install a field of solar panels in an eighth of the time it would take 35 humans. Technology Review explains:
The main idea is to save money on labor, which accounts for a growing fraction of the cost of solar power as panels get cheaper … For a 14-megawatt solar plant, the company [PV Kraftwerker] estimates, it might cost about $2 million to install the panels manually. Using the robot could cut that cost by nearly half. The company says that the robot, which lists for $900,000, could pay for itself in less than a year of steady use.
For now, at least, the robots still need humans to install the metal frames for the panes and to screw them in after they’re placed. And Tech Review says that, for residential-scale projects, human labor’s still faster and cheaper.
If robots can make solar power cheap enough to compete with fossil fuels, that’s a net plus. But it does seem like we’re programming them to build the power source that will sustain the robot revolution, when that time comes. At least they won’t need to suck power from humans, Matrix-style. Solar beats biofuels any day.