Project Proposal


Emily Lathrop and Emma Weber and


As the culmination of our time in Design Cultures and Creativity we plan on designing and implementing a solar awning that will attach to benches around the University of Maryland. This solar awning will be connected to a battery bank through a charge controller and an inverter, which can then be used to charge electronics via outdoor outlets. The awning will become an art statement to transform perception of a temporary public space, incorporating a reflection of our school pride. This project promotes a sustainable solution to the plight of not being able to work outside for sustained periods of time without draining the power of electronic devices. By promoting a sustainable solution to a problem that students face, this project connects topics that we have explored in DCC such as ubiquitous computing and sustainability in a digital age. In order to implement this project, we will synthesize skills from our respective majors (Architecture and Electrical Engineering) as well as knowledge gained from faculty advisors and the Solar Energy Project in Engineers Without Borders. This solar awning will serve as a prototype with the end goal of replicating the solar awning in various places around campus.



The goal of this project is to design and implement a solar awning into a bench in front of Prince Frederick Hall at the University of Maryland that will serve as an electronics charging station. Currently, students are not able to work outside for sustained periods of time due to the fact that their electronics become drained of power without access to charging ports outdoors. The aim of this project is to alleviate this plight by providing outlets to plug in electronics while remaining outside. This solution will be environmentally friendly as well as sustainable, and can serve as a pilot for potentially implementing more of these systems around campus in the future. This project is also directly applicable to our majors and allows us the chance to put concepts that we have learned into practice. As an electrical and computer engineering major, the design process behind designing a solar charging station is directly applicable to concepts learned in class. As an architecture major, integrating an aesthetically pleasing, structural and functional structure into an existing environment incorporates a variety of skills gained through classes. This solar awning will serve as a test case with the hope of implementing more of these systems around campus in the future.


PROJECT DESCRIPTION                           

Over the semester, we plan to design and implement an outdoor charging station that can inhabit a flexible amount of spaces. We aim to invent a series of new inhabitable spaces that induce productivity and social interaction within large public spaces such as the field next to Prince Frederick Hall.

Utilizing existing structures, our design will transform a bench at the edge of the field in front of Prince Frederick Hall. The design of the solar awning involves creating a freestanding structural casing with an extension overhanging the bench below. The casing will be designed as to encourage social use of the space and a new way of visualizing the bench. Atop the overhang will rest solar panels connected to a charge controller which will transform the variable voltage collected into a constant voltage. This will feed to a box at the bottom of the casing, venting to the exterior. An outdoor outlet will be attached to a leg of the bench and shall connect to the battery through the inverter within that box. This transforms the DC voltage stored in the battery to AC voltage so that electronics may charge.

Our design will allow users to work outdoors without the worry of losing charge on any battery-powered device. We will ensure the design is weatherproofed to endure the seasons. It is self-contained and should seamlessly integrate to the landscape. The structure will invite passersby to stop and question this transformation of space, and it shall provoke outdoor productivity and a social work environment. Additionally, it will be easy to apply in different settings around campus. By implementing one of these charging stations, this capstone will serve as a prototype in order to pitch this design to the University of Maryland in hopes of installing these systems around campus.



This project is important because it addresses a problem that our campus community faces, namely that of not being able to work outside for long periods of time. This is due to the fact that laptops and phones cannot hold a charge for long periods of time without being charged. In addition to solving a problem, this project builds on ideas that we explored in DCC105 and DCC106 such as the sustainability and environmental impact from digital technologies as well as how computers and electronics are permeating the space that we live and interact in. This project will allow electronics to exist in a wider scope in natural areas where electronics are not seen as frequently due to the fact that electronics need a rather frequent charging in order to be used continuously. The aim of this project is to solve this problem while still attempting to keep the natural world in its natural state. By integrating the system into preexisting structures and using solar panels, this project aims to keep the environmental impact to a minimum. At the same time, it becomes a visual art piece that will appeal to the public and invite mass usage. The unique design will mesh well with the environment, and yet cause internal reflection on the multiple ways to use the sun. This project also perpetuates modern trends such as ubiquitous computing, allowing users to use mobile devices in a wider variety of places for extended periods of time.



I will be designing the electrical system for the solar awning using knowledge that I have learned from my electrical engineering classes as well as practical knowledge that I have picked up as a part of the Engineers Without Borders Solar Energy Project in Ghana. As part of Engineers Without Borders, I have learned how to design solar systems and methods for researching and selecting materials for implementing designs. As I progress through the design and implementation phase, if my current knowledge is not adequate I will use the extensive resources that the University offers in order to learn the skills I need in order to complete this project.



The most suitable research methods for this project will be using online sources as well as taking advantage of the knowledge of faculty mentors. The main type of research that needs to be conducted is regarding the design for the electrical system. The internet contains a vast database of successful solar power implementations that can be drawn from in order to create a design for the solar system. I am also in contact with Bryan Quinn, the director of the Technical Operations division in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Maryland, who has agreed to be a mentor for this project. He has extensive knowledge on solar systems, having designed a number of them, and can offer valuable insights into the design process.




Date Task
11/17 – 11/23 Write capstone proposal
11/19 – 11/21 Determine load of electrical system (Emily)
11/19 – 11/21 Design solar awning including size specifications (Emma)
11/22 – 11/23 Size electrical system (Emily)
11/22 – 11/23 Research materials and cost (Emma)
2/15 – 2/20 Apply for a minigrant from the UMD Sustainability Fund
3/15 Hear back from Sustainabiltiy Committee on status of minigrant
2/20 – 4/1 Order materials
2/20 – 4/1 Wait for materials to arrive
3/15 – 4/1 Write a proposed implementation document (for replication purposes)
4/1 – 5/1 Implement a solar awning on a bench on the Washington Quad
5/1 – 5/20 Collect data on bench use
Summer 2015 Develop a plan to pitch solar awning to University on a larger scale
Sept 2015 Pitch solar awning to University with hopes of implementation on a larger scale



This project is intended to be beneficial to those at the University of Maryland, including students, faculty, and visitors who sit outside to do work. This project addresses the goal of being able to do work for extended periods of time on the quad by providing a way to charge electronics that may otherwise run out of power. Currently, those who work outside expect to not be able to work outside for long periods of time, and this project challenges these expectations and promotes a culture of ubiquitous computing by allowing mobile devices to exist for extended periods of time in a wider variety of places. By placing charging outlets both facing towards and away from the benches, this structure also caters to both those who can sit on benches and those who cannot, such as handicapped individuals.



Item Cost
Solar panel (235 watt Sharp Photovoltaic Module) $380
2x Battery (6V golf cart, 225 amp-hrs) $300
Charge controller (Trace C12 Charge Controller) $90
Inverter (6V DC to AC) $30
Powder-coated steel frame $50
Watertight Steel box (12” x 8” x 12”) $30
Sheet metal from Community Forklift $100
Total $980



This project connects to my long-term goal of implementing environmentally friendly energy solutions. One of my major motivations behind pursuing an engineering degree is so that I can influence the next generation of electrical systems in order to create sustainable solutions to everyday problems. Currently, an increasing amount of attention is being paid to environmental issues and the unsustainability of our current lifestyles. This is a challenge that my generation will have to confront in order to maintain a habitable Earth. This project will promote practices from DCC such as sustainability in a digital age as ubiquitous computing, as it allows electronics to be used in a wider variety of spaces for longer periods of time. This project will serve as a prototype in order to pitch this design to the University on a larger scale, hopefully resulting in the implementation of solar awnings on benches around campus.



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Northern Arizona Wind and Sun. “Solar Charge Controller Basics.” Solar Electric. Northern Arizona Wind & Sun, 2014. Web. 22 Nov. 2014.

Lumos. “Solarscapes: A Configurable, Modern Solar Solution.” (n.d.): n. pag. Lumos Solar. Web. 22 Nov. 2014.

Office of Sustainability. “Sustainability Fund 2014.” Campus Sustainability · University of Maryland. University of Maryland, n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.

Sobota, Lenore. “ISU Students Get a Charge out of Solar Table.” Pantograph, 29 Sept. 2014. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.

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Wholesale Solar. “Solar Insolation Map Showing Peak Sun Hours/Day of United States.” Solar Insolation Map. Wholesale Solar, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.



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