Traditional solar panels are limited in their ability to harness energy by their fixed positions. In order to better capture as much light as possible, researchers have developed a flexible solar cell inspired by the Japanese art of paper sculpting.
Kirigami is a variation of origami that involves cutting paper in addition to folding it. A team of researchers led by Stephen Forrest and Max Shtein, both professors of material science at the University of Michigan, have drawn inspiration from the Japanese art by cutting solar cells into specific designs. The result allows the cells to follow the sun’s trajectory without moving the whole panel, harnessing 20 to 40 percent more energy than a fixed solar cell.
When cut just so, the gallium arsenide panel strips can bend without casting shadows over each other. With minimal force, they pull apart into a wavy configuration that's able to catch sunlight at different angles.
Efficiency is a common challenge when it comes to solar power. This technology generates more electricity with the same amount of materials, all while avoiding the cumbersome mechanics required to tilt an entire panel.
There’s still work to be done before the solar cells are ready for commercial applications. Once factors like electric motors and protective casings are figured out, you might be able to see them contorting on a roof top near you.
[h/t: MIT Technology Review]