As a semifinalist in a national solar power design competition, a student team from the Texas A&M College of Architecture’s Design Process class is building a portable solar-powered umbrella capable of powering portable electronic devices.
Using thin, flexible photovoltaic modules and funds furnished to advancing teams by competition sponsor Ascent Solar Techologies, Inc., the students’ umbrella design will collect and store energy in an on-board lithium ion battery that can power devices via a USB outlet on the supporting pole.
Tasked by the competition to propose innovative uses for portable solar power, Texas A&M team member Eric Reese, a senior finance major, said “we began by asking ourselves where these panels could be used where they aren't in danger of getting damaged by the elements, like roof mounted solar cells, and where they have a competitive advantage over traditional grid power.”
The umbrella fit both criteria, he said, since people won’t be sitting at the beach in the rain and since it provides electricity in the absence of other power sources.
Other students on the advancing Texas A&M team are: Margaret Weber, landscape architecture; Brittany Brown, business administration; Scott Frazier, ocean engineering; Briana Miles, environmental studies, and Jon MacKay, civil engineering.
They’ll be competing in the Ascent Solar Technologies’ Innovative Design Competition semifinals with students from Boston University, Rochester Institute of Technology, San Diego State, University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Oregon, who are also building prototypes of their concepts.
Engineering and product development teams from Ascent Solar will judge the final projects on their ingenuity, usefulness and ability to transform the market. The top three teams will win $10,000, $5,000 and $3,000, respectively. The first-place team will be flown to Thornton, Colo. where they will tour Ascent Solar's production facility and get the chance to interview for internships with the company.
In the Design Process classes, led by Jorge Vanegas, dean of the College of Architecture, and Rodney Hill, professor of architecture, students create knowledge for individual and group projects. They must document and conduct patent searches on at least two innovative ideas each week. Numerous class projects have placed well in social entrepreneur competitions, and the students routinely generate and post YouTube videos to further illustrate their ideas.