Q&A with Core77 design winner: Solar Puff

Ben Kaufman’s company, Quirky, is all about finding great ideas from regular people and turning them into real, marketable products, and Core77 is all about covering the best and latest in design and technology. Throughout the Quirky series, we’ll be bringing you stories from designers, inventors and entrepreneurs who’ve either already brought their product from concept to completion or are right in the middle of that process – and all without the help of a company like Ben’s.

Today we bring you the story of the Solar Puff, runner up for the Core77 Design Award for DIY/Hack/Mod. Designed by Alice Minsoo Chun of Studio Unite.

Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited, and why?

In Haiti and Nigeria I’ve witnessed thousands of people using kerosene cups and lighting them on fire at night because there was no electricity. On average, the cost of the fuel is 30% of a person’s income. I’ve seen children coughing while trying to do homework with these kerosene lamps; or out on a street corner reading from street lights. Every child should have the ability to have a light at night.

The Solar Puff is an inflatable, foldable balloon that’s designed based on an origami paper balloon. The Puff takes one puff of air to inflate and the 6 LED lights can illuminate a room at night for 6-8 hours.

What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?

I’ve been working on new and sustainable materials that integrate light materials and technology for several years. Solar power used in local communities can, collectively, change the world’s air quality.

When designing this project, whose interested did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audience, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc.)

The stakeholders of the project were the two billion people in the world without access to a grid. Manufacturing will be targeted at areas of extreme poverty, particularly the Nigerians vendors who need to light their goods at night, as well as the one million displaced people in tent camps in Haiti. Assembly and distribution in Africa will take place in Nigeria, where there’s a strong need for jobs in the the youth sector.

Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, mat

I began my research in 1998 when I started designing emergency shelter for disaster victims. My fascination with textiles moved me to test the integration of light materials with wearable clothing. I made a number objects with the flexible solar panel sewn into the fabric.

What is the social value of your design?

The hardest part of making the Solar Puff is keeping the cost down. If we make millions of the solar circuit used in the Puff, the cost goes down to about $2.50 per circuit, and when you factor in fabrication and shipping the cost is about $6. We hope to sell it to the very poor for $8.

If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?

Marketing for India and China. Right now I am focusing on Nigeria and Haiti.

Feeling inventive? Watch Quirky Tuesdays at 9P on Sundance Channel

Find Sundance Channel on your TV