Working in a ‘team’ of 2 to 4 students, use the design process to design an LED light system, chargeable with solar panels, intended for school aged children in developing countries

Define goal and research

Now’s the time to ask any questions about the actual problem.  Now, start a ‘question’ list.  What might you need to know to successfully solve this design problem.  At the same time, start research the web.  Who’s already offered a solution?  What does their design look like? How does it work? How is it recharged?  How long does the light last?  Bookmark these sites for reference.

Sketching and Drafting

When you follow the Design Process, you first research, then brainstorm, pick one of the solutions you think will work the best, draft it using 3D software (like Google Sketchup) and then build a prototype.

Driving Questions

What are the components of a simple LED light circuit
What ‘systems’ make up a simple LED light?
How can solar panels charge batteries?
How to use problem solving steps to adapt to errors, mistakes, or lack of knowledge
What don’t I know and how/where can I find the answer(s)?

Criteria (Terms that have to be met in order for the project to be deemed a success)

  • LED light
  • Must be able to be turned on and off
  • Must be battery powered (AA rechargeable batteries – 1.2 Volt / 1900 mAh)
  • Must be able to stand alone and/or be able to held aloft in some way (as in above a table or room)
  • (Optional) be charged by solar panels

Constraints (Constraints are limitations on the design)

  • Time
  • Size of the available solar panel
  • Voltage of the batteries and how many you intend to use

Other things to consider

  • Following the ‘rules’ of Cradle2Cradle?  More on C2C
  • To keep in mind, but might be down the road a bit….


This activity is what’s called “Project Based Learning” or PBL.  Students are given a problem/task to solve, criteria/constraints, deadlines, and that’s it.  Your grade will be based on what you get done in the time you have available.

  • Project
    • 75 pts:  first working prototype
      • Individual effort
      • Housing
      • Holder
      • Electronics
    • 75 pts:  2nd prototype
      • Individual effort
      • Improvements / workmanship
  • 50 pts: Presentation
    • Title page
    • Sketches – one from all
    • Main sketch – detailed sketch of the chosen design
    • Electronics schematic with math, calculating resistor values
    • Pictures of both prototypes
    • Materials list
    • Anything else that would support the work that you did

Based upon the Engineering Brightness Project

YouTube: and

System Teams

Housing System

Purpose of housing:  To hold everything together as well as to protect electronics from weather and wear.

What to do?

  1. Research other designs
  2. Communicate:  Before sketching, discuss dimension requirements with other system teams.  Batteries and Electronics dimensions?
  3. Sketch:  Come up with creative, unique sketches.  Discuss all ideas, pick one and plan.
  4. Build:  Create with Google Sketchup and 3D print or bring in other material (soup can?)
  5. Present prototype to other teams. See if things fit together

Holder System

Purpose of holder:  To hold the light on a wall, stand up on table, hang from a wire, or be held in your hand if you’re walking

What to do?

  1. Research other designs
  2. Communicate:  Before sketching, discuss dimension requirements with other system teams
  3. Sketch:  Come up with creative, unique sketches.  Discuss all ideas, pick one and plan.  NOTE: your design MUST be able to fit into housing.  Communicate with Housing team often
  4. Build:  build according to your dimensions
  5. Present prototype to other teams. See if things fit together

Electronics System

Purpose of electronic system:  This IS the light.  Must fit in the housing correctly to maximize light beam

What to do?

  1. Research other designs
    1. 1 LED?  2 LED?  More?
    2. What voltage? (batteries)
    3. Series or parallel circuit?
    4. Watch and do:
      1. How to Build a Simple LED Circuit – Electronics for Absolute Beginners
  2. Communicate:  Before sketching, discuss dimension requirements with other system teams
  3. Sketch:
  4. Build:  build according to your dimensions
  5. Present pro

Reference Links

  • LED Links
    All kinds of links focused on LED’s
  • Links:  Charging Batteries with solar panels
  • Luminaid
    When architecture graduate students Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta were asked to design a product to assist post-earthquake relief efforts in Haiti, they considered the dangerous conditions at night in the tent cities and turned their attention to another critical need: Light
  • Sun King
    Over 2 billion people around the world live off the reliable electric grid. Our tireless last mile distribution partners and village sales agents help get our low cost Sun King™ solar devices to off-grid families in need so they can live safer, brighter and more productive lives.
  • Portable Light Project
    The Portable Light Project enables people in the developing world to create and own solar textiles, providing clean energy and light to improve education, health care and sustainable economic development, while strengthening the local craft traditions of diverse cultures and global regions.
  • Panasonic to Release Solar LED Lantern
    Panasonic Corporation announced that it will start selling a solar LED lantern that doubles as a charger for people living in areas without electricity. With a built-in rechargeable battery to store solar energy during the day, the lantern provides light at night and can also be used as a power source to charge small mobile devices, such as mobile phones.
  • D.Light
    d.light is a global leader in delivering affordable solar-powered solutions designed for the two billion people in the developing world without access to reliable energy. A social enterprise, d.light provides distributed solar energy solutions for households and small businesses that are transforming the way people all over the world use and pay for energy.
  • Gravity Light
    As a social enterprise, Deciwatt Ltd supports The GravityLight Foundation to offer a clean, safe and affordable alternative to dangerous, polluting and expensive kerosene lamps, used by over 1.1 billion people. Learn more about The GravityLight Foundation and their plans to tackle poverty with GravityLight.

Essential Questions

Solar Panel

  • Will it float?
  • How will it charge?
  • Can it charge more than one light at a time?
  • Will more than one solar panel make it brighter?
  • What is the best time of day for the solar panel to charge?
  • Are the solar panels water-proof?
  • Wires
    • How long should the wires be?
    • What kind of connector ends should the wire have?
    • How much resistance is in the wire?
  • How big does the solar panel have to be to charge the batteries quickly?
  • Where does the solar have to be put when it isn’t charging?
  • What size solar panel should be used?
  • Can we charge other devices with it?
  • How do you make the solar panel angle adjustable?
  • Should it have brightness settings?
  • Is the solar panel adjustable?
  • What direction should the solar panel be facing?
  • Should we make the solar panel part of the light?
  • How durable should it be?
  • Make sure you make it out of non-flammable material


  • Can the holder be removable?
  • Can the holder also hold the solar panel?
  • Can the holder be attached to the solar panel?
  • Can the light itself be held onto a backpack?
  • How do you limit the holder’s weight?
  • Can the holder be collapsable?
  • Could the holder be adjustable to different light shapes?
  • How big does the holder need to be?
  • Can it hang on the wall?
  • If it’s too heavy will it affect the charge?
  • Can it be portable?
  • Is it easy to replace?
  • Is it holdable by hand?
  • Is it durable?
  • What materials would you use to make it?
  • How much does the holder weigh?
  • Can it be multifunctional?

Links for Electronics