Product Design Engineering

Hot or not? Solar-panel cleaner idea

A few times a week, brand-new contacts email me product announcements with relevancy that isn't immediately discernible. For example, I got one yesterday from someone with whom I'd never worked bearing the email title: Solarbrush: Meet a robot engineer fighting global warming at Clean Tech Forum, San Francisco. Well, okay ... this person I'm invited to meet certainly sounds ambitious enough.

For emails such as this from senders I don't recognize, I go through the normal four to 20-second mental decision tree: Is this spam? If no — is the sender a weirdo? If no — has this been emailed to five billion people? If no — is this irrelevant to what I'm tasked with covering? If no — does the sender seem unlikely to have additional information? If no — proceed with caution ... read the whole email, Google their gadget.

If at any time the question's answer is yes, email = Deleted ... or if the email is completely unrelated to new technology (say, something about a conspiracy of silence that promotes workplace harassment) it gets the dreaded Block Sender.

This little mental process takes time — precious, precious time. The tantalizing reward, of course, is that occasionally these emails contain interesting little-covered tidbits about new designs nobody is talking about, but should.

The email from yesterday is one of those nuggets. Check it out: A 27-year-old engineer named Ridha Azaiz in Germany has developed a robot that cleans solar panels. The design targets sunbelt regions in which sand and dust regularly deposit on panels, cutting their efficiency by 35%. His little company's website — — is a snapshot of what one German startup looks like, and how it justifies its technology.

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