In case of emergency, grab a solar suitcase

A solar-powered suitcase has won the 2019 Edison Award for Social Innovation. The Solar Suitcase was originally developed by the We Care Solar project and this third reiteration was enhanced by Arrow.

In many developing nations, mothers and babies are put at risk in delivery rooms due to either lack of electricity or sudden power cuts. The World Health Organization reports that 830 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. The We Care Solar project is a non-profit organisation that delivers renewable, portable light and electricity to remote health centres in these countries, so that mothers can give birth safely, day and night even if their community is off-grid.

The suitcase was created by husband and wife team Dr Laura Stachel, a retired obstetrician-gynecologist, and Hal Aronson. It is a solar-powered suitcase that includes medical-quality lighting, a foetal monitor and rechargeable headlamps. There is also mobile phone charging so that medical staff can make emergency referrals.

Arrow donated in-kind services to make the suitcase cheaper and make it easier to produce to scale. The distributor’s North America design teams, particularly in Denver, Colorado, matched the design inventory to swop key components to reduce the bill of materials. As a result, the cost of building the 30lb (approximately 13.6kg) suitcase was reduced by 20% yet is 15% more powerful to operate all night long if necessary. The distributor also redesigned the lights to be medical-grade LED lamps. This has a practical use as well as cost saving, in that they are cool enough for staff at a clinic to handle if needed.

The longer liferspan Lithium batteries mean that each suitcase is expected to work for at least five years with virtually no maintenance and before requiring a simple battery replacement. The suitcase is being field tested in Uganda, and expanded manufacturing in the US is planned for 2019.