Engineering Students Win IEEE Humanitarian Technology Challenge in Reliable Electrical Power for Developing Countries

Amanda DelCore MSSE '12, Emily Battinelli EE '12, and Gerry Mayer EE '12 won first place in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Humanitarian Technology Challenge in Reliable Electrical Power for Developing Countries. The team presented their design for a solar-powered headlamp inspired by a stand-alone hybrid power system known as the Solar Suitcase at the competition in Niagara Falls, Canada in June.

"The idea for the solar headlamp was born out of a similar, but larger-scale project to bring light to medical attendees in developing countries," says DelCore, who will further develop the device as a part of her thesis work this year. "Two organizations, Power Up Gambia and Women’s Emergency Communication and Reliable Electricity (WE CARE) Solar, were looking for 'something quick' to hand out to people when they could not install a full solar power system. A solar-charged headlamp was the perfect solution to give hands-free lighting to doctors during emergencies and while delivering babies."

Dr. Pritpal Singh, Professor and Chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, serves as the advisor for DelCore's thesis project and encouraged her and the team to enter in the IEEE Humanitarian Technology Challenge. The Challenge called upon students to enhance the utility of the Solar Suitcase, a photovoltaic system to power devices that fits in a carry-on suitcase created by Dr. Laura Stachel and Dr. Hal Aronson. Dr. Singh and the team hope that, once the design implementation of the solar headlamp is finalized, they will be able to devise a way for the two systems to interface. The headlamp could become a companion device, allowing the Solar Suitcase to recharge its singular AA battery for operation.

"During the Challenge weekend, I presented a tutorial on reliable electricity from solar power and the compatible electrical systems’ design concept," says Dr. Singh. "The seminar provided the basis for a discussion as we collaborated with our competitors from two teams from the University of Waterloo to propose new resources for medical clinics and community centers in areas where there is no access to grid-tied electricity. I am so proud of my students for placing first in this international competition that promotes such a great cause."

DelCore has already begun to survey the practicality of her solar headlamp device, ensuring that communities will find it to be both useful and effective. During a recent trip to Nicaragua, DelCore spoke to doctors and village leaders about her project. If her design is implemented successfully, she hopes to return to Nicaragua and deliver her finished product to community members who contributed to her research.

"This project is important to me because I believe in empowering people in need, not just giving them power," says DelCore. "As I approached the problem through a lens of sustainability, I realized that if I wanted this device to continue working for years after delivering it to developing countries, then the community members would need to understand the mechanism and how it works. The design features call for as much local labor and materials as possible. We need to realize the impact of our work on a global scale. On the surface level, the solar headlamp gives medical attendees confidence and control, and women in labor a greater chance to survive. But beyond that, it is a product that addresses the challenges of creating sustainable technology in developing societies."

For more information on the Solar Suitcase, visit www.wecaresolar.com/.

Amanda DelCore MSSE ’12, Emily Battinelli EE ’12, Dr. Pritpal Singh, and Gerry Mayer EE ’12
Amanda DelCore MSSE ’12, Emily Battinelli EE ’12, Dr. Pritpal Singh, and Gerry Mayer EE ’12