News & Features

Students Build Dual Wind/Solar Umbrella

two students in workshop standing under large patio umbrella

May 13, 2014

Two CAEE architectural engineering students recently built a prize-winning, dual wind/solar patio umbrella that provides a renewable energy source and a Wi-Fi hotspot to portable electronics.  

Seniors Kathleen Hetrick and Emily Lamon constructed a full-scale prototype for $300, utilizing flexible solar panels and fabric donated from the Austin Transportation Department. The structure is similar to a typical folding patio umbrella and also functions as a helical wind turbine when in a closed position. Solar cells that are integrated into the shading fabric generate power whether opened or closed. Aesthetically, it also brings a sense of public art to an outdoor space.

The renewable energy umbrella was also successful in two separate competitions. The team participated in the Engineers for a Sustainable World’s Alternative Energy Challenge in which students create novel ideals for the generation of power using renewable and sustainable methods. They won first place and received the funding to create a prototype of their device.

view of closed patio umbrella in workshop

Hetrick and Lamon later entered into the I2P® UT Austin Competition, winning third place. This challenge gives competitors hands-on commercialization experience, mentoring and feedback from experienced entrepreneurs on the UT-Austin faculty and from industry. Both competitions emphasize innovation and applicability.