A research project from Caltech and ETHZ introduces the first solar panel of its kind that can automatically expand or contract with change in temperature. The idea is to have a solar panel that can be noticedonly when the sun is out. Isn’t it cool? The project, documented in the journal Physics Review Applied, uses shape-shifting materials to make the solar panel shift from a compressed state to an expanded state with temperature rise and drop.
The device is at its prototype stage and looks like a blooming flower when it expands. It is made of “shape-memory polymer”, which expands totake its natural, full-bloomed shape when comes in contact to heat. Otherwise, it remains in a small, compressed disc shape. The transition, guided by a network of hinged joints, is fast enough and takes place within a minute.
The structure is inspired by a kid’s toy called Hoberman sphere, which changes from a mini spiky ball to larger ball when thrown.
This is an amazing space saving feature and would potentially save space on a satellite or a spacecraft that can’t accommodate large solar panels or batteries/spare solar arrays to charge the panels. Hence, when the satellite or spacecraft is deployed, it would stay in its small, rigid form and would expand when it is launched on the surface of the extra-terrestrial body.
Right now, it is just a one-way transition; the larger disc needs to be manually folded back into the smaller one. This might take some time before a commercial one is on its way but it is definitely an innovative idea to look forward to.