Researchers at the Harvard Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences say they have created shape-shifting polymers that respond to heat and light without the requirement of any external power.
The latest research uses magnetic fields during the creation of the LCEs to control their molecular structure. The result is microscopic three dimensional polymer shapes that can be programmed to move in any direction in response to multiple types of stimuli, according to Science Daily.
One of the problems with solar panels is they stay stationary while the sun moves across the sky. To maximize efficiency requires two axis tracking mechanisms — a horizontal device that allows the panels to follow the sun on its diurnal journey and a vertical device that permits it to adjust to seasonal changes in the sun’s azimuth.
One benefit of the new materials could be solar cells that turn to face the sun the way sunflowers do in nature.
Other than solar cells that track the sun autonomously, what other uses might there be for these tiny shape-shifters?
The technology could also form the basis of autonomous source-following radios, multilevel encryption, sensors, and smart buildings.
No doubt DARPA is interested in the encryption possibilities the new LCE polymers present, but the prospect of autonomous solar panels that track the sun without expensive mechanical systems will probably be the application most of us look forward too.
Reference- Cleantechnica, ScienceDaily