Trying to find sources of energy and light is one of the hardest problem when you are on another planet than earth. When we approached this challenge we wanted to design something that would server the future inhabitants of mars even in the worst conditions. For that we created a robotic solar panel that has the power to calculate where the sun is and point towards it, even if it is clouded to absorb energy.
This being a hardware project we started by designing how the robot should look. For that we went with a simple 2 motor design as that has given us 2 axis of freedom and has keep technical complexity to a minimum.
To power the motors we have choose to use a Raspberry Pi3, this has enough processing power to easily calculate the position of the sun after variables as time, latitude and longitude have been provided.
Creating the support structure was not easy but we repurposed a children toy that had a solar panel already in. By using gears we successfully are able to control the rotation of the solar panel with high precision.
Calculating the position of the sun from any planet in the solar system was not an easy task. We had to take in calculation the eccentricity of the orbits and the inclination of the earth on its own axis.
The Pi runs Python with no problem and more than half of our team has worked with it already. To prototype the solution we first tested it in Maya from Autodesk. Maya has a scripting back-end that can be used with Python so after testing that everything works the last step was to move the code to the hardware.
SpaceApps is a NASA incubator innovation program.