Watt It Takes: How a NASA Roboticist Built a Groundbreaking Solar Tracker

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Leila Madrone was constantly looking for creative ways to use robots. In the mid 2000's, she co-founded a music group called Ensemble Robot, which featured robots that played music.

"I had this great passion to use robotics to have meaning in the world," said Madrone. Later, Madrone worked for NASA's intelligent robotics group.

Then she caught the solar bug: "Solar seemed like where the most possibility was for the future."

She teamed up with Saul Griffith, an expert in self-replicating machines, to start Sunfolding. It started with a seemingly simple idea: Solar trackers move solar panels over the day to create the most energy. But they’re made of heavy, expensive components. What if you could develop a cheaper, more efficient tracker using premium plastic materials and the power of air to maximize energy production?

With that idea, Leila built Sunfolding’s AirDrive technology that combines the functionality of motors, gears, dampers and batteries into a single component primarily composed of air.

In this edition of Watt It Takes, Powerhouse CEO Emily Kirsch interviews Leila Madrone about her path from music-making NASA roboticist to solar-tracker CEO.

This podcast is brought to you by Sense. Sense installs in your home's electrical panel and provides insight into your energy use and home activity through iOS, Android and web apps. Find out more.

Watt It Takes is a live interview series produced by Powerhouse in partnership with GTM. The conversation was recorded live in Oakland, California.

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