Leila Madrone was constantly looking for creative ways to use robots. In the mid-2000s, 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 course of 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.
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Watt It Takes is a live interview series produced by Powerhouse in partnership with GTM. The conversation was recorded live in Oakland, California. Powerhouse's Emily Fritze contributed to the show notes.
Listen to our other episodes of Watt It Takes:
- Nancy Pfund’s Pro Tips for Getting Started in Cleantech
- SunPower Founder Dick Swanson’s Guide to Launching a Cleantech Startup
- Lessons From the Fall of Sungevity
- Dan Shugar, the King Midas of Solar
- A History of Greentech Media With Scott Clavenna
- Sungage's Sara Ross on Starting a Solar Loan Company
- Jigar Shah on the Origin Story of SunEdison
- The Origin Story of Mosaic With Billy Parish
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