INVENTION SPOTLIGHT: A SOLAR-POWERED TENT FOR THE HOMELESS

I know, I know – I cover homelessness a lot on the blog. A huge reason for that is because, like it or not (for the record – not), it’s prevalence is undeniable. There are over 500,000 homeless people in the United States. A 2016 survey even found that Washington DC had one of the highest homeless rates of 32 US cities. Yikes. But the reason I keep covering it is because there are more and more people taking a look at this issue and tackling it from new, innovative angles. It’s proof that people rule and 2017 is quite a time to be alive.

This time, I wanted to cover a unique counter to homelessness dreamt up by 12 smart, driven, and resourceful girls living in San Fernando, California. These makeshift inventors go to school together at San Fernando High School. The summary of what they’ve done can be whittled down to a sentence – they’ve created a solar-powered tent for homeless people. However, their efforts extend far beyond that. After all, for a technology or outdoor outfitter company, making a solar-powered tent would be one thing, but for twelve girls who lacked the know-how to sew, code, solder, and more, it’s quite another.

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The idea stemmed from an opportunity – an invitation by a high school teacher to dream up and execute a science project for submission to the Lemelson – MIT Program, which is basically a science fair on steroids. Seriously, though. An overview on the Lemelson- MIT website explains it as follows:

“The Lemelson – MIT Program celebrates outstanding inventors and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention.

We recognize emerging collegiate inventors whose inventions could impact important sectors of the global economy and honor mid-career inventors with a prestigious cash prize. We also encourage youth to invent and develop their hands-on skills in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) through two national grants initiatives for grades 7-12.”

Some winners of awards in the past contributed inventions such as Tactile: A real-time text-to-braille converter, a solar-powered desalination system for off-grid water production in India and Gaza, novel proteins to fight superbug bacterial infections, a respitory solution for premature infants around the world, and more. Simply put, your procrastinated replica of the solar system strung together with an old hanger and some paper clips (after you’ve taken Pluto off and put it back on again) probably isn’t going to cut it. No pressure.

Although the group of girls tossed around several problems worth tackling, such as pollution and water quality, it turned out that homelessness was an issue that was close to home for all of them. At the same time that they were putting their heads together, homelessness in San Fernando had grown by 36 percent, giving the high schoolers a first-hand view of the struggles that come with life on the streets.

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After presenting their idea to the Lemelson-MIT program, the team was granted a $10,000 grant to develop their invention. Even with money in hand, a blank page was intimidating, but the girls set to work. If you’re wondering how you go about inventing a solar-powered tent, you should ask yourself how people tackle anything these days – Google – lots and lots of Google. According to Mashable:

“If they had an issue with a solar panel not functioning properly, they watched YouTube videos. If they couldn’t figure out a stitch pattern, they Googled it. The girls developed their own inspirational hashtag: #wegetitdone.”

While the grants the team won only covered the invention of the tent – which involved countless hours, prototypes, and newfound skills, the team hopes that features on websites such as Mashable and programs such as Ryan Seacrests’s radio show will eventually lead to the tent being mass produced.

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The tent is well-equipped with button-powered lights, USB ports, a sanitizing UVC light, safety locking system, and insulated fabric. Plus, taking into account the mobile nature of many homeless people’s reality, the tent easily collapses and converts to a backpack that can be worn or rolled around from spot to spot.

Homelessness can seem like an ongoing battle, but projects like this are the light at the end of the tunnel. Touché, girls. Together, let’s get it done.

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