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May 2011


Cable robot IPAnema



Robots the Solution to Carbon Neutral Energy

ROBOTIC researchers from Germany believe they hold the key to future global electricity generation.  The team from the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (IPA) approached Desertec, a consortium whose big idea is the building of gigantic solar-thermal plants in the desert last year.  Desertec has calculated that if just 1% of the Sahara was devoted to solar energy production, enough electricity would be generated for the entire world at current annual levels of consumption.

Alongside the many political questions that a project on this scale throws up, the mega project would create technical obstacles that could make the erection of the plants uneconomic.  Desertec envisions starting with hundred million mirrors covering an area of 36,000 square kilometers (14,000 square miles).  In order to erect such a massive infrastructure, an army of workers would need to labour for decades.  It would be a construction project dwarfing any other previously attempted, requiring massive, upfront capital costs with a long, as yet uncalculated, payback period.

The IPA has been building on kinematic and motor and drive research first begun in the 1980s over the last three years.  Dr Andreas Pott, leader of the IPA team, explained: “The idea of combining the power of a crane with the speed and accuracy of a robot is something other people have tried to do, but computer processing power was simply not advanced enough for cable robots to succeed until now.  Our IPAnema robot actually consists almost entirely of cables and winches.  The winches are fixed to movable square metal scaffolding.  Held between the cables, which are controlled by the winches with the aid of a computer, is the tool, known as the end effector.  In the past, it was hard to predict what the result would be when the actuators were moved, but now we are able to give commands to the winches in a completely synchronised way thanks to computer modelling.  We’ve taken pure science and put it to work on industrial grade devices.”

The demonstrator robot Dr. Pott and his team built last year is five metres high and has footprint of nine metres by seven metres.  In reality, even this massive structure would be much too small for the Desertec Project.  It is estimated that this robot would have to be the size of a football pitch.  However, unlike cranes that owing to their swinging loads, must move slowly, IPAnema can accelerate quickly in full control of its load thanks to its automatically controlled winches.  The actuator drum contained within the winch produces force that is transmitted through the cable over long distances.  These high forces can be used for both heavy loads and for speed simply by changing the gear box between operations.

“When designing a robot capable of disparate tasks, such as lifting the seven tonne collectors, consisting of dozens of parabolic mirrors, or laying cabling, flexibility is the key issue”, said Dr. Pott.  “We have experimentally proved that we can reconfigure our robot by decreasing the payload by an half or a third and transfer that capacity into an increase in speed by a factor of four.  This breakthrough doesn’t just have application in solar energy installation, we believe our technology could have just as transformational an effect on shipbuilding, aerospace, wind turbines, the erection of electric transmission lines, or indeed, any large scale construction project previously reliant on cranes.”

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 Automated erection of solar power plants

Source: Fraunhfofer IPA 

Automated erection of solar power plants using a mobile cable robot

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 Fraunhofer IPA: Cable robot concept with eight cables designed for handling tasks

Source: Fraunhfofer IPA 

Cable robot concept with eight cables designed for handling tasks

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 Fraunhofer IPA: Cable-driven parallel robot IPAnema


Source: Fraunhofer IPA

Cable-driven parallel robot IPAnema  

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