Last October, Carnegie Mellon University charged its students to devise temporary, economically viable shelters for housing some of the 578,424 homeless people living in the United States. Winters are particularly brutal for the homeless, many of whom face overcrowded shelters, long nights in the street, and the looming threat of death from hypothermia. With less than a week to develop an effective prototype, an interdisciplinary student team from the school’s created “Satellite Shelter,” an insulated sleeping bag that transforms into a tent for staying warm.

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“Satellite Shelter,” as the project was dubbed, took second place at the “Impact-a-Thon,” part of the annual Innovation Palooza held by the College of Engineering. Composed of Mylar polyester, an inexpensive reflective material used in space blankets, each sleeping tent includes waterproof ventilation and wool blankets for comfort. It also has wheels and shoulder straps, making it easy to transfer from place to place.

“We wanted to make sure it was super-portable and durable, so that it’s easy to carry,” explains Linh Thi Do, a Tepper School of Business student who worked on the project with Alex Surasky-Ysasi and Rajlakshmee, both from the Integrated Innovation Institute, and Priya Ganadas from the School of Architecture.

“You need the diversity of perspectives,” says Surasky-Ysasi of the multifaceted approach. “Linh Thi reminded us, ‘Don’t forget about cost!’ and I would ask, ‘Mechanically, does this work?’ and Raj would say, ‘But the fabric!'”

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Coming in first place was “Green Residence,” an advertising billboard that converts into a heated tent at night, drawing its power from nearby lampposts.

“These two winning entries underscore the inherent value of cross-training—engineering, design and business—accelerating the speed and pace of innovation,” says Jonathan Cagan, co-founder and director of the recently established Integrated Innovation Institute, in a statement. “Both are viable, affordable solutions to the intractable problem of keeping homeless people warm in the lowest winter temperatures.”

The Institute is now exploring ways to implement the ideas in cities across the country.

+ Impact-a-Thon

+ Carnegie Mellon University

[Via Huffington Post]