SmartTree is a student-driven design project to build an outdoor solar-powered charging station at Northwestern. Our goal is to increase reliance on renewable energy by allowing students to enjoy a beautiful day outside without having to worry about the battery life of their devices. SmartTree aims to act as an impactful education tool to display what sustainable energy can look like in our everyday lives. And most importantly, SmartTree will be a source of clean energy that everyone on Northwestern’s campus can access.
SmartTree was an idea born within the student group Engineers for a Sustainable World at Northwestern. We wanted to do something impactful with the few solar panels we had at our disposal, something everyone could be a part of, and something that could bring people together for a sustainable practice. With these goals in mind, we designed our first iteration of what would be known as the SmartTree. For this design, tall branches hold our solar panels high above the ground so they can effectively gather light. A solid trunk supports each branch, and a table surrounds its center so that a group of people can sit there together to get work done, charge their devices using the built-in AC and USB outlets, or just enjoy the outdoors. Lastly, the benches will be made of recycled materials provided by Chicagoland contractors to complete SmartTree’s message of impactful sustainability. This academic year, our design will be assembled on the beautiful Northwestern Lakefill, so that students, faculty, and Evanston residents can enjoy unrivaled views of Lake Michigan and the North Shore.
The SmartTree team is comprised of 15 McCormick undergraduate students with varying majors. The team is divided into two sub-teams: mechanical and electrical. The mechanical team oversees the entire structural design of the tree, including material selection, shape of the various members, table/bench design, and other components. The electrical team oversees the power supply system of SmartTree, including the panel connections, wiring, battery layout, and electrical component placement. Several individual members have also held the responsibility of raising money through grants and other funding sources, running social media accounts, and communicating with various Northwestern offices throughout the design processes. We are immensely happy with what we have accomplished so far, and we hope to establish SmartTree as a fantastic student-built campus landmark in the months to come.