Alice Min Soo Chun, a designer and professor at the Parsons New School for Design, wanted to design something that could be used in relief efforts after a 2010 earthquake hit Haiti. After years of research, she invented the SolarPuff, a foldable lantern inspired by the principles of origami.
Small-scale solar panels promise many off-grid applications for renewable energy, and the SolarPuff is a particularly elegant example. This solar-powered lantern folds flat and weighs just 2.3 ounces. It pops open easily to disperse the light from its ring of LEDs, without a harsh brightness.
“One of the things I realized in disaster relief is that you need something that is very portable and lightweight,” said Chun. Because the SolarPuff folds flat, one can pack dozens into a box that would carry only a few flashlights. And because its lithium-ion battery is re-charged with a thin solar panel, there’s no need for extra batteries. It charges in about 4 hours and lasts for 8 to 10.
The lantern is water-proof, so it can be used outside in stormy conditions—or for more enjoyable water activities. “My son uses it in the bathtub,” said Chun. “It will float where other flashlights and lanterns will sink.”
In fact, the SolarPuff has many potential applications. In addition to providing light after a disaster, it can also be a replacement for kerosene lamps, which contribute to global warming and create unhealthy indoor air conditions. It could also be an off-grid light solution for the 1.6 billion people around the world who don’t have access to electricity.
“The thing that’s great about the solar puff is that it answers an immediate need right now for people that need access to light,” said Chun.
The light’s simple cube design makes it attractive to anyone who wants a sustainable light for their home or for camping. “I’m really excited about the outdoor market and camping market, and the decor indoor market as well,” said Chun.
Chun is a co-funder of FAARM, a non-profit design collective that works to help underserved communities in a number of ways. The SolarPuff is FAARM’s first product, Chun said. “The solar puff answers the question of one of the basic human necessities: light. But we hope to help develop local economies in areas where we distribute them as well.”
The SolarPuff is currently available in Japan and the U.S., and can be purchased from Solight Designs for $30.00. Chun said they plan to use a buy-one-give-one model similar to Tom’s shoes, so that a purchase in the U.S. will subsidize a donation in Haiti or a similar area.
Keeping in line with FAARM’s goals, Chun wanted to create something as beautiful as it is functional. “Even when you’re impoverished, you still appreciate beauty and design.”