Appropedia needs your support - Please Donate Today
Project Green Umbrella
I am an Appropriate Technology educator involved with designing class projects for undergraduate engineering students;
producing unique prototypes that are then presented as public demonstrations on the campuses of education centers, universities,
as well as alternative energy fairs and concert events. I seek to produce an educational Appropriate Technology display that
demonstrates a permaculture concept known as Stacked-Functions; the idea that a tool or accessory should have more than one
essential purpose in order to reduce the environmental costs and personal expense incurred through the prevalent use of
single purposed possessions. The focus of this project is to design a prototype worthy of symbolizing this concept and capable
of taking its place upon world stage.
I believe the shape of this prototype should be able to assume that of a paraboloid;
a precise, radial, 3 dimensional manifestation
of the 2-dimensional parabola; with focusing properties first mathematically-conceived and proven by Diocles in 256 BC and physically
demonstrated by his student, Archimedes in 212 BC ...
And ... while not officially deemed an immaculate-conception, its useful properties of optical and structural engineering make possible a myriad
of stacked functions; each so profound and essential in its own right, as to be deemed miraculous if witnessed long before its time.
From the quest for fire to the burning-mirrors of ancient Greece, from the woven basket to the ceramic bowl, from the wood fired kiln
to the Odeillo Solar Furnace, from an aboriginal hut to the first dome tent, from the wheel to the nose cone of a jet airliner,
from a telecommunication satellite dish to a radio telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope Mirror, and Beyond!
All of these possible functions reside implicitly within but one shape ... the paraboloid. 
(A brief technical math discussion follows - skip ahead one paragraph if you wish.)
A parabola is graphed by using the general equation y = ax^2. + 2ab + b^2, (which for our purposes can be simplified to y = a x^2 ).
By varying the value of the coefficient ( a ) from 0 to 1, the depth of the parabola will vary from that of a shallow plate to that of a dome,
respectively; depending upon its intended application. For example: when (a) = 0.9 our equation becomes y = (.9) x^2 which precisely describes
the shape of many useful items including: a deep focus parabolic solar oven, a blizzard-snow-shelter dome, an emergency search light beam reflector,
or an aerodynamic nose-cone shape suitable for deflecting projectiles. (see fig. 1 above) . By comparison, in the equation that describes the slight curvature
of the Hubble space telescope parabolic mirror, ( a ) approaches O and thus the mirror has an extremely shallow depth enabling it to focus on distant galaxies nearly
13 billion light years away. (1 light year equals approximately 6 trillion miles.)
But, rather than designing from scratch, I believe a simpler approach for introducing this concept to the general public would be to choose a common household item that already has design potential. And, with that goal in mind, consider if you will ...
When a fiberglass framed umbrella is opened, the ribs are flexed into a shape determined by the shape of the canopy. A paraboloidal shape for the umbrella canopy can be approximated by calculating the correct dimensions to which the triangular shaped facets are cut and sewn together at the edges. Preliminary research has shown that when the concave facets are surfaced with light weight mirror finished materials, some wedding umbrellas approximate a parabolic curve well enough to function as solar ovens; just able to bake a cake at 300 degrees f.
Appropriate Technology Engineering Class Project
Humboldt State University 2009
However, the recent availability of low cost, light weight, parabolic photographic portrait lighting-umbrellas has made possible the more recent testing of a larger umbrella solar oven prototype that reached an oven chamber temperature of 330 degrees f. and baked cookies during its first tests. The reflective canopy remains at whatever the ambient temperature happens be.
Umbrellas are already commonly accepted as a necessity that many people are accustomed to using in their daily lives; whether for rain or shine.
In fact, umbrellas are ubiquitous and even used as symbols of mass protest.
The Umbrella Rebellion - Hong Kong
Women's Rights Demonstration - Warsaw, Poland
I challenge the umbrella industry to help develop such a prototype and with an extensive list of multiple functions and features that a light weight, sturdy, durable parabolic umbrella could provide, including:
• a quick-shelter umbrella-tent that reflects IR radiation (body heat rays) back inside the tent like a space blanket
• an umbrella satellite dish for establishing emergency telecommunications and Internet up links for news, and information, etc
• a photovoltaic umbrella canopy fabric surface capable of recharging AA batteries stored within the umbrella pole and used for powering night lights, charging cell phones, and digital cameras, etc. once photovoltaic fabric is perfected. Amorphous photovoltaic coatings such as printer ink are being developed at Iowa State University. Bucky-tube fabric hybridization is another promising method now on the horizon.
• a sturdy, overbuilt fiberglass umbrella frame that is both impact resistant and storm worthy with a canopy of durable rip-stop fabric that is UV and flame resistant
• an umbrella solar cooker/solar thermal water pasteurizer
• a rain water catchment/with collection drain
• a self defense shield against batons & projectiles etc.
• an emergency flood lamp reflector
• a protective umbrella carrier with gig bag: tubular, impact resistant, reflective, air tight so it can function as both a buoyant flotation device and easy to aim cylindrical signal mirror while keeping one afloat / gig bag outside pockets stocked with compass, cell phone & first aid kit etc
- components made using sustainable/bio compatible materials when possible
Such a multi-functional umbrella could take the place of several other separate single purposed accessories, if its single retail price is less expensive, thus providing an incentive and means towards reducing the number of one's most needed possessions and decreasing one's own environmental impact upon the Earth.
And last, but not least ...
The world wide proliferation of such umbrellas would pre-position them for emergency deployment to meet the most immediate and essential needs
of a population that suddenly finds themselves displaced as refugees; caught up in a war, ethnic cleansing, or natural disaster. Thus, the umbrella
could come to be viewed as a symbol; embodying all the compassion and concern of the Special Envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner
On Refugees, Angelina Joli, the appropriate technology ethos of Buckminster Fuller, and yes ... the helpful spirit of Mary Poppins.
And Now ...
To access if the previously mentioned check list of multiple umbrella functions would be applicable and sufficient to help provide for the most essential needs of people in such a catastrophe, a closer look at a day in the life of a war refugee could provide a heart felt appreciation of the ordeals currently being faced by human populations displaced by a wars ... now being waged.
The following video chronicles the ordeals faced by just such a displaced population. Throughout the video, Green Umbrella icons will appear from time to time near the top of the screen to point out critical situations taking place, that create an essential need, which could potentially be met by just such a multi-functional parabolic umbrella.
Please click here to: Watch The Video
(This video file is stored on Google Drive which sometimes loads to slowly for the video to play without frequently pausing to buffer. To get around this, click-start the video, mute the audio, and minimize the window for 20 minutes while allowing it to play all the through to the end without watching it. Then maximize the window, turn up your computer's sound volume all the way, click-start the video again and it will play all the way through without pausing to buffer. Watch in full screen mode for the best viewing experience.)
Appropriate Technology Engineering Class Projects
- Projects with Bart