Robot power sources are the means by which robots obtain the energy needed to operate their motors, sensors, and other components. A power source is crucial for a robot because it provides the energy needed to operate its motors, sensors, and other components. A robot would be a collection of inactive parts without a power source.
The type of power source that a robot needs depends on several factors, including the size and weight of the robot, its operating environment, and the desired level of autonomy.
Common robot power sources include:
Batteries are a popular choice for robots because they are compact and portable. They are also relatively inexpensive and easy to maintain. However, batteries have a limited lifespan and need to be recharged regularly.
- Compact and portable
- Relatively inexpensive and easy to maintain
- No emissions or noise
- Limited lifespan
- Need to be recharged regularly
- It can be heavy and bulky
Lithium-ion batteries are the most common type used in robots because they are lightweight, have a high energy density, and can be recharged quickly. Some leading manufacturers of lithium-ion battery batteries for robots include LG Chem, Samsung SDI, and Panasonic.
Lead-acid batteries are less expensive than lithium-ion batteries but are also heavier and have a shorter lifespan. Lead-acid batteries, such as industrial robots, are often used in robots that require a lot of power. Some leading manufacturers of lead-acid battery manufacturers for robots include Exide Technologies, Johnson Controls, and EnerSys.
Nickel-metal hydride batteries are a compromise between lithium-ion and lead-acid batteries. They are more expensive than lead-acid batteries but are lighter and have a longer lifespan. Nickel-metal hydride batteries are often used in robots that require a balance of power and energy density. Some leading manufacturers of nickel-metal hydride battery manufacturers for robots include Panasonic, Sanyo, and Encellium Technologies.
2. Fuel cells
Fuel cells offer several advantages over batteries, including higher efficiency and longer runtimes. However, they also have drawbacks, such as higher cost and operational complexity. Fuel cells are generally preferred for robots that demand extended operation periods without access to a power source.
- Superior efficiency compared to batteries
- Extended runtimes
- Environmentally friendly operation with no emissions or noise
- Higher initial cost and maintenance complexity
- Reliance on a fuel source, typically hydrogen or methanol.
Proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) are the most prevalent type of fuel cell utilized in robotics due to their efficiency and reliability. PEMFCs typically employ hydrogen but can also accommodate other fuels like methanol. Notable manufacturers of PEMFCs for robots include Ballard Power Systems, Panasonic, and Plug Power.
Solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) represent a newer generation of fuel cells, offering improved efficiency and the ability to operate at higher temperatures than PEMFCs. While SOFCs remain under development, they hold promise as a more efficient and reliable power source for robots. Siemens, United Technologies Corporation, and FuelCell Energy are among the leading manufacturers of SOFCs for robotics applications.
Direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs) are a unique type of fuel cell that directly utilizes methanol as their fuel, eliminating the need for prior hydrogen conversion. DMFCs offer advantages in compactness and weight compared to PEMFCs, but their efficiency is lower. Toshiba, Fujifilm, and Blue Energy are among the leading manufacturers of DMFCs for robots.
Tethers offer robots a continuous power supply but can also restrict their mobility. Tethers are commonly employed for robots that operate in fixed locations or that require a high degree of precision in their tasks.
- Continuous power supply
- Elimination of battery recharging concerns
- Restricted mobility
- Potential safety hazards
Wired tethers represent the most prevalent type of tether utilized in robotics due to their simplicity and reliability. However, they can also limit the robot’s movement. Stäubli, RE Robotics, and Schunk are among the leading manufacturers of wired tethers for robots.
Wireless tethers represent a newer generation, employing wireless power transmission to supply energy to the robot. Wireless tethers can enhance the robot’s freedom of movement but may also be less reliable than wired tethers. WiBotic, Powercast, and Energous are among the leading manufacturers of wireless tethers for robots.
Pneumatic systems utilize compressed air to power robots. They are commonly employed for robots that demand substantial power and torque, such as industrial robots.
- High power and torque output
- Relatively inexpensive acquisition and maintenance costs
- Ease of maintenance and repair
- Noisy operation
- Dependency on a compressed air source
Compressed air systems represent the most prevalent type of pneumatic system implemented in robotics due to their simplicity and reliability. Compressed air systems typically employ a compressor to generate compressed air stored in a tank. The stored compressed air serves as the power source for the robot’s actuators. Festo, SMC, and Camozzi are among the leading manufacturers of compressed air systems for robots.
Vacuum systems represent a newer generation of pneumatic systems, harnessing a vacuum to generate negative pressure. Vacuum systems offer enhanced efficiency compared to compressed air systems but also introduce increased complexity. Piab, Becker, and Busch are among the leading manufacturers of vacuum systems for robots.
Hydraulic systems harness pressurized fluid to power robots. They are commonly employed for robots that demand substantial force and precision, such as construction robots.
- High force and precision output
- Durability and reliability
- Heavy and bulky design
- Reliance on a hydraulic fluid source
- Potential safety hazards if not handled properly
Hydraulic pumps and motors represent the most prevalent type of hydraulic system utilized in robotics due to their power and precision capabilities. Hydraulic pumps and motors typically employ hydraulic fluid to generate pressure, which is then harnessed to power the robot’s actuators. Bosch Rexroth, Parker Hannifin, and Eaton are among the leading manufacturers of hydraulic pumps and motors for robots.
Hydraulic cylinders serve as the actuators that convert hydraulic pressure into mechanical force. Hydraulic cylinders are typically employed to drive the movement of the robot’s arms and legs. Some of the leading manufacturers of hydraulic cylinders for robots include Enerpac, Parker Hannifin, and Bosch Rexroth.
6. Solar power
Solar panels can be harnessed to power robots operating in areas with abundant sunlight. Solar power represents a clean and renewable energy source, but its reliability can be inconsistent.
- Clean and renewable energy source
- No emissions or noise pollution
- Inconsistent reliability
- Dependency on sunlight for operation
Solar panels represent the most prevalent type of solar power source employed in robotics due to their clean and renewable nature. Solar panels typically utilize photovoltaic cells to convert sunlight into electricity. Kyocera, SunPower, and First Solar are among the leading manufacturers of solar panels for robots.
Thin-film solar cells embody a newer generation, offering enhanced flexibility and reduced weight compared to conventional silicon solar cells. While thin-film solar cells remain under development, they hold promise as a more efficient and versatile power source for robots. Hanergy, United Solar Ovonic, and GSolar are among the leading manufacturers of thin-film robot solar cells.
Organic photovoltaic cells (OPVs) represent a type of solar cell that harnesses organic materials to convert sunlight into electricity. OPVs are still in the initial stages of development, but they have the potential to become a more flexible and lightweight power source for robots. Konarka Technologies, Heliatek, and Ossila are among the leading manufacturers of OPVs for robots.
7. Wireless power transmission
Wireless power transmission offers a promising solution for powering robots without the need for wires or tethers, but this technology remains in its early stages of development.
- Eliminates the need for cumbersome wires or tethers
- Enables simultaneous power transmission to multiple robots
- Technology is still in its nascent stages of development
- Implementation costs can be substantial
WiBotic’s wireless power transmission systems utilize magnetic resonance to transfer power over a distance of up to 1 meter. WiBotic’s systems are employed in various robots, including surgical, warehouse, and service robots.
Powercast’s wireless power transmission systems rely on near-field induction to transmit power over a distance of up to 1 centimeter. Powercast’s systems are utilized in various small devices, such as sensors, wearables, and medical devices.
Energous’s wireless power transmission systems employ a proprietary technology called WattUp to transfer power over a distance of up to 3 meters. Energous’s systems are used in various devices, including robots, smartphones, and laptops.
Choosing the right power source
Choosing the right power source for your robot is crucial for its performance and efficiency. There are several factors to consider when making this decision, including:
Size and Weight of the Robot
The robot’s size and weight will determine how much power it needs to operate. Larger and heavier robots require more powerful sources, such as batteries or fuel cells. Smaller and lighter robots may get away with using less powerful sources, such as pneumatics or hydraulics.
The robot’s operating environment will also affect the choice of power source. Robots operating in hazardous environments, such as those exposed to extreme temperatures or chemicals, may need to use power sources specifically designed for these conditions.
Desired Level of Autonomy
The desired level of autonomy of the robot will also play a role in the choice of power source. Robots that need to operate for long periods without access to a power source will need to use power sources with a long lifespan, such as fuel cells or solar power. Robots that need to be able to move freely and without restrictions must use power sources that do not limit their mobility, such as batteries or tethers.
The cost of the power source is also an important consideration. Some power sources, such as batteries, are relatively inexpensive, while others, such as fuel cells, are more expensive. The cost of the power source should be weighed against its benefits.
The reliability of the power source is also important. Robots that are used for critical applications, such as those in healthcare or manufacturing, need to use power sources that are reliable and unlikely to fail.
The efficiency of the power source is also important. Robots that need to operate for long periods on a single charge will need to use efficient power sources that use as little energy as possible.
Ease of Maintenance
The ease of maintenance of the power source is also important. Robots in remote or difficult-to-access locations must use power sources that are easy to maintain and repair.