Daniela Orozco was moved by the dramatic increase in the number of homeless people in her city. She says that in her freshman year, she would pass perhaps one such individual on her daily walk to school. However, four years later, she observed a significant increase in the homeless population, seeing them along the highways and under bridges where she lives just outside of Los Angeles.
This painful reality galvanized Daniela and ten of her classmates to get involved. They wanted to do something meaningful for the homeless, but seeing as they did not come from wealthy families, their contribution had to be something other than money. The solution they came up with is not only useful, it is inspiring: A solar-powered tent that can fold up and fit into a backpack.
With no engineering experience, the girls relied upon Google, YouTube and other online sites to help them with the development of the tent. Chelly Chavez, one of the team members, learned to program from online resources in order to develop the programming language necessary to control the technical aspects of the tent. According to their teacher, there was also quite a bit of trial and error, all of which fed into the immense learning process that these girls engaged in.
The team won a $10,000 grant from the Lemelson-MIT program to help them develop this amazing invention that they hope will improve the lives of homeless people throughout the country. They worked under the wing of DIY Girls, an intervention program that seeks to bring more girls into the mathematics, sciences and engineering fields.
In mid-June, they presented their invention at the MIT Young Inventors Conference. So far, they have designed and built two prototypes, though there is only one solar tent that remains in tact, the first was practically destroyed during quality control. The second, however, is much sturdier. The girls are currently focused on getting the tents to mass production, which will be good news for the homeless who must deal with severe weather conditions throughout the year.