By Stephanie Petersen, SolarSPELL Project Manager

On Saturday, November 14th, the SolarSPELL initiative hosted our Fall 2020 Build Day at the ASU Polytechnic Campus in Mesa. Around 20 students, faculty, and staff members gathered to build 25 SolarSPELLs, hopefully to be taken into the field in 2021. This year, our SolarSPELL materials were funded by the Humanitarian Activities Committee of the IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, which is a professional association for electronic engineering and electrical engineering. 

As you probably guessed, Build Day looked a little different than normal this time around! Of course, 2020 brought some interesting challenges for everyone, including the SolarSPELL team. Our team needed to brainstorm  a creative way to still get everyone together (in a smaller group), keep safe by wearing masks and distancing, and get the job done!

We had some fun SolarSPELL branded masks that everyone wore as they put together the SolarSPELLs and also limited the group size compared to previous years. Our team safely physically distanced but still had a great time together and learned some new skills!

Additionally, some tasks aren’t as easy as they seem. For example, I signed up to help with adding velcro to our batteries and spent way more time than I ever would have imagined needed to be spent on removing the plastic from one side!

If you have participated in Build Day before, or have seen our videos, then you have an idea of how the whole process might go. However, in the video below you can watch Dr. Hosman, SolarSPELL Co-founder and Director, explain the process. 

In addition to faculty, staff, and our BMET students (who have been working hard on that digital library for the last year), we also had a friend from Boeing, Lanette Rugis, who has participated in Build Days in the past and led the team, by first providing everyone with a walk through of the process and then guiding them through when questions arose. 

We set up different stations where everyone got the chance to try out a different step of the process, like putting the case together, drilling holes into the waterproof plastic case, cutting/stripping wires, peeling and putting velcro on the batteries and the Raspberry Pi, or doing all the final gluing/adding the finishing touches.

Throughout the day and at the end, we all provided feedback on how we can continue to improve the process for future Build Days.

Now that these units have all been put together and have sat for a while, allowing the adhesive to set for a while so everything could set and the batteries could be charged up, we are now getting ready to start the quality assurance process. During this process we start testing whether the libraries have been assembled properly and whether the units charge up as they should. We also plug in our SD cards into the Raspberry Pi to make sure the computer boots up and everything is working properly and as planned.

We are very excited to announce that we are currently in the process of redesigning the SolarSPELL device and will soon have a beta version to test. The design is much different, as you can see in the below image. We anticipate continuing to hold Build Days where we assemble the SolarSPELL hardware, but Build Days will certainly look considerably different in the future! 

We look forward to when we have the opportunity to travel to the field again, but in the meantime, our team will continue to find ways to be creative and still benefit the communities we serve around the world!