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Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles and Arizona State University have developed SUNbots, an innovative new type of solar technology.

The new technology imitates phototropism – the process where certain types of plants, such as sunflowers, halt their movement when the optimum exposure to sunlight for photosynthesis is achieved.

The SUNbot can automatically bend towards light to achieve optimal exposure to the sun thanks to its ‘stem’, which partially consists of a material that heats up and shrinks in sunlight – causing the stem to bend, and pointing the solar panel ‘flower’ directly towards light sources.

Once the panels are optimally positioned, they cast a shadow over the ‘stem’ allowing it to cool and stop bending.

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Researchers tested the technology by building a panel of SunBOTs, each less than a millimetre wide, with and without the phototropism-inspired stem technology – those with the new technology generated up to 400% more solar energy.

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They said: “This behaviour mimics the elegant agility of living systems, which leads to novel intelligent materials.

“Practically, our SunBOTs provide a long-sought solution to energy harvesting via the autonomous maximisation of the input power density.”

The researchers added that the technology has potential impacts across a number of energy, robotics and environmental applications.

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Philip Gordon is based in Clarion Energy's Cape Town office as a Content Producer for the Smart Energy International and Power Engineering International media titles. Phil's interests include the energy transition, smart grid technologies, smart city technologies, and e-mobility in all its forms. His media experience spans B2B and consumer print, commercial copywriting, and radio over the past 19 years.