Solar-powered umbrella design places 3rd in national contest


The umbrella collects and stores energy using solar panels and an on-board lithium ion battery that can power devices via a USB outlet.

A solar-powered beach umbrella capable of powering portable electronic devices, built by a team of students in the fall 2011 Design Process class at Texas A&M, recently earned third place in the nationwide Innovative Design Competition sponsored by Ascent Solar Technologies, Inc.

The competition drew entries from student teams across the country that were tasked to develop innovative applications for Ascent’s lightweight, flexible and glass-free solar panels.

The Aggie-designed umbrella collects and stores energy using solar panels and an on-board lithium ion battery that can power electronic devices via a USB outlet on the supporting pole.

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 it provides electricity in the absence of other power sources.

Other students on the team were Margaret Weber, landscape architecture; Brittany Brown, business administration; Scott Frazier, ocean engineering; Briana Miles, environmental studies and Jon MacKay, civil engineering.

A portable solar powered water purification system designed by group of Boston University students captured first place, while a team of University of California, Berkeley students won second place with their scalable system of solar panels with a unique, flexible attachment method. The winners were announced April 10, 2012.

Engineering and product development teams from Ascent Solar judged the projects on their ingenuity, usefulness and ability to transform the market. The top three teams won $10,000, $5,000 and $3,000, respectively.

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.

posted April 12, 2012