TECH SA: Local startup develops autonomous electric tractors
SAN ANTONIO – Renu Robotics launched in 2018 with the goal of using technology to promote renewable energy and improve the environment.
"Operational expenses are a big piece of dealing with solar power utility scale solar farms. So what we're doing is actually making robots that will provide maintenance for those solar farms," Renu Robotics CEO Tim Matus said.
Renu Robotics is developing completely autonomous electric tractors for mowing purposes and hopefully to help expand the solar farm industry.
"It's complicated. There's all kinds of infrastructure in there. So, what we do is we say, 'Let's take this and let's make it really a technology type of product.' We'll actually have it go out and mow in the evenings. It's less noisy. It's all electric," Matus said.
"Right now, it's running an autonomous program following paths that are preprogrammed. So, this is out here to simulate what you'd be doing up and down solar panel rows," said engineering manager Michael Blanton Jr.
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Matus said many solar farms right now are hiring people to mow. The new tractors will automate the task, something Matus said will cut costs by 30% to 50%.
He hopes to have tractors in the future do different tasks around solar farms, including spraying pesticides and herbicides, plus have the flexibility to have different tools attached that will allow them to eliminate weeds.
Solar farms are large-scale solar installations where panels are used to harvest the suns power.
This year, the U.S. solar market surpassed two million installations, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
"This is a battery that is a 20.6-kilowatt battery. A third of power of a Tesla car in this lawnmower," Matus said.
He said the tractor will sell for about $50,000 and will be able to cut about 100 acres in a month, which is the equivalent of about 200 residential front lawns.
Matus said Renu Robotics will also provide a software package that controls fleets of tractor robots. The company will collect data and provide reports.
"We hope to hire as much as 180 people over the next five years," Matus said.
"So our target market is industrial spaces, so solar farms, airports, military bases, things that are controlled environments. We've still got a couple more years to go before we get them out fully accepted into the public spaces on roads. But even after a couple of years, things like this will be able to go out into the public spaces, as well," Blanton said.
Renu Robotics is in the process of building five tractors. Two will be tested, and three are already purchased. One is currently on display at Solar Power International, an energy trade show in Utah.
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