Engineers working to make solar cells more cost effective ended up finding a method for making sonar-like collision avoidance systems in self-driving cars.
The twin discoveries started, the researchers say, when they began looking for a solution to a well-known problem in the world of solar cells.
Solar cells capture photons from sunlight in order to convert them into electricity. The thicker the layer of silicon in the cell, the more light it can absorb, and the more electricity it can ultimately produce. But the sheer expense of silicon has become a barrier to solar cost-effectiveness.
So the engineers figured out how to create a very thin layer of silicon that could absorb as many photons as a much thicker layer of the costly material. Specifically, rather than laying the silicon flat, they nanotextured the surface of the silicon in a way that created more opportunities for light particles to be absorbed.
Their technique increased photon absorption rates for the nanotextured solar cells compared to traditional thin silicon cells, making more cost-effective use of the material.