Often times, negative situations breed positive advancements. A prime example is the way environmental concerns have inspired an entire generation of inventors. With the appetite for green products voracious, inventors everywhere have heeded the challenge to come up with innovative ways to reduce impact. Without the urgency of this cause, the world might have missed out on some clever ideas like the VEIL Solar Shade.
VEIL stands for Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab, which is a collaboration between government and educational institutions in Australia. The stated goal of the lab is to “research, envision, innovate, create and test desirable and realizable concepts for sustainable products, services, built environments and lifestyles.” Funded by the Victorian government through the Sustainability Fund, VEIL is operated by the Australian Center for Science Innovation and Society at the University of Melbourne. One initiative of VEIL is the Smart Green Schools Studio, a venture that has architecture students at the University conceiving ways to bring environmental and educational imperatives together in innovative ways. Central to the studio is the idea that: “architecture can enhance the educational experience by providing spaces that reflect educational ideologies, but also teach through their expression”.
It was from the Smart Green Schools Studio that the idea for the VEIL Solar Shade emerged. Student Kathleen Turner (not to be confused with the husky-voiced star of “Romancing the Stone”) proposed the concept that outdoor shade umbrellas could be used to harvest solar energy on school grounds. Students could observe and learn about solar energy production and storage while sitting under the shades using attached touch screens. Because of its perceived potential, VEIL chose to further develop Turner’s concept in a series of workshops with the design team from Büro North – a diverse studio of graphic and industrial designers. Büro North evolved Turner’s concept, suggesting that the shades could be rotated during the day to follow the best orientation for energy collection, and the underside of the shade would use LEDs to illustrate whether collection is optimal. Using the LED readings, students could turn the shades until they are in the best position for absorbing solar power. Additionally, Büro North proposed that individuals could plug portable devices into the shades and use solar energy to recharge them.
So far, feedback on the Solar Shade has been extremely positive and prototypes are expected to be produced by next year. One can easily envision the Solar Shades eventually being produced on a commercial level and placed in areas like schoolyards, parks and other public facilities – not just in Australia but around the world. And maybe one day, low-cost Solar Shades will even be available in retail stores for individuals to purchase and place around their homes. While that’s all speculation at this point, it certainly doesn’t seem like an impossible dream – which speaks to the potential of the invention. The Solar Shade serves as a reminder of one of mankind’s greatest assets: the ability to use creativity, ingenuity and imagination to spin negative situations into positive developments. That, my friends, is the beauty of invention.