Solari – Portable Solar Cooker

Solari – Portable Solar Cooker

  • Solari - Portable Solar Cooker
    Solari - Portable Solar Cooker
  • Harnessing the sun's energy to cook anywhere
    Harnessing the sun's energy to cook anywhere
  • Solari Prototype
    Solari Prototype
  • Portable and hassle-free setup
    Portable and hassle-free setup
  • Intuitive User Experience
    Intuitive User Experience
  • How it works: Materials and Assembly
    How it works: Materials and Assembly
  • Solari Application - Smart Cooking
    Solari Application - Smart Cooking
  • Process: Ideation
    Process: Ideation
  • Process: Development
    Process: Development
  • Solari Prototype Cooker and Application
    Solari Prototype Cooker and Application
Solari - Portable Solar Cooker Design
What It Does

Be able to cook anywhere the sun is shining with Solari – a completely fuel-less and highly portable outdoor cooker that harnesses energy from the sun to slow-cook delicious and nutritious meals allowing you more free time to enjoy the outdoor without polluting the environment.

The Inspiration

The ability to cook and share a delicious meal and nutritious meal when you are outdoors at the beach or park without having to resort to unhealthy fast-foods.

Currently the only options are barbeques, camping stoves and in some cases even firewood which has used for cooking since the beginning of mankind. These options have always worked for us, but at the same time, all of these methods are unsustainable and do great deal of damage to the environment that we go to enjoy when we go outdoors.

Thus, it is odd why there are not any widely used methods of cooking that is sustainable for the environment, given that we spend a significant amount of our time cooking and eating. In fact, around 3 billion people still cook and heat their homes using unsustainable solid fuels in open fires. (World Health Organisation, March 2014) Not to mention the time it takes to gather the fuel (i.e. wood, crop wastes, charcoal, coal and dung) and the health risk and pollutant exposure while we cook.

Thus, the endeavor to find methods of sustainable cooking was born. Besides the environment, current outdoor cooking situations have much to be improved, for example the long list of accessories to buy and bring just to cook the food, making an enjoyable event almost a burden because of logistics. Lastly, do not forget the dedicated chef who has to toil over the heat while the rest of his/her companions are enjoying the outdoor.

Solari solves the problem of polluting the environment while cooking outdoors with fossil fuels by revising a tested method of using solar energy to cook for us. Furthermore, typical problems that we face today such as finding fuel and cleaning up associated using non-reusable resources are all eliminated with the solar cooking.
Lastly, by adapting an already popular method of slow-cooking to the outdoors together with using smart technology, the supervisory role of the chef is no longer required, making the outdoor dining experience truly stress free.

How It Works

Solari uses the energy from the sun to cook food for you when you are outdoors. It cooks delicious and nutritious ‘crock-pot’ style meals for 4-6 people in a few hours without needing to buy and burn any gas/coal or plug into any electrical outlets, thus keeping the environment clean. It is innovative as its small size, portability and hassle-free setup allow it to be taken anywhere and anyone solar cooking for the first time to get it right without any guesswork.

The lack of a user-friendly and a portable form in current solar cookers are some of the reasons why this free and clean method of cooking remained in fringe culture. Designing the Solari to be intuitive and attractive will hopefully encourage more people to try solar cooking and promote the switch from the unsustainable energy. The unfamiliar cooking method is another deterrent; Solari features an intuitive temperature gauge and wireless readings through a smart phone app to reduce the learning curve for solar cooking. Furthermore, a connected online network of solar cooking enthusiasts help share individual knowledge, recipes and cooking tips for the benefit of the community.

How Solari Works:
Solari works by combining the effect of a heat trap and light focuser to convert the sun's light into heat for cooking food. It works by letting in light through the transparent lid through a spot fresnel lens and directing it to the base of a reflective shell. Light is dispersed around the aluminum shell and the rays that hit the heat absorptive cooking pot is converted to heat and warms up the food inside from all directions. The aluminum cooking pot has a rough surface texture and fins to increase high surface area and a coat of high heat absorbing paint (> 90% of sun's visible and IR wavelengths). Heat is retained within the cooker by the insulated reflective surface of the outer shell.

Stages of Development

Research and Project Definition:
Initially, a wide range of heat retaining and heat generating technologies was researched in parallel with user studies and observations for outdoor cooking and the current food culture to define characteristics of a new product. From the technology standpoint, it was realized that none of the other researched methods such as zeolite, dynamo, battery, phase change materials can provide enough energy to cook food without being too large, and none come close to matching the free energy of the sun. er

User Research:
The experience of taking a barbecue to a park and the seaside was tried out and observed for user studies. From this highly stressful experience, many observations and problems were gathered according to tasks (i.e. PREPARATION – buying fuel/coal, lighter fluid, food to CLEANUP – throwing away coal, cleaning dust off…’ and design opportunities and ideas were brainstormed to solve each of the issues.
After narrowing down what the key characteristics for the cooker (portable, easy to use, setup-free), these were then synthesized with cultural insights (i.e. what people like to cook, where they cook outdoor) the solution was redefined to creating a the first truly portable solar cooker that people would want to use instead of barbecue/gas burner to cook pollution-free next time they are outdoor.

Conceptualization and Development:
A process of full-size rough foam and paper mock-ups and prototyping followed, to a shape and size that is portable and easily setup and would fit enough food. A series of tougher thermoformed plastic models were created to test the handle ergonomics. In parallel, store bought cookware of similar sizes were modified and tested with Fresnel lens to trap heat and heat water and soup. Sketches and CAD allowed fine tuning of the shape and handle details.

Prototype and Testing:
A full scale prototype with the correct material was then machined and food testing started with fluids and soup and eventually moved up to solid foods such as seafood and chicken. Temperatures were observed using a contactless infrared thermometer.

Food Testing:
During food testing with solar cooking, it was realized that just like cooking or baking - is a trial and error process and without the insight and foreknowledge of temperature of the food and the time, it is very difficult to be confident when the food is cooked. Thus a temperature/timer was introduced to the design. Initially an old-fashioned, manual thermometer and gauge was initially chosen to be integrated with the product. But with further development, this function was replaced by a low-cost, coin-cell powered temperature sensor which transmits real-time data via bluetooth 4.0 to a smartphone.

User Interface and Design Revision:
A simple was developed interface to take time and temperature readings, while I waited for the food to cook during testing. Making the product ‘smart’ was not obvious at first but having a remote user interface allowed me the freedom to be away until the timer alerted me to check up on the test- which then naturally evolved to an integrated feature and a dedicated application for the cooker.

Systems Design:
The application idea was then expanded to include a social food network, which connected solar cookers to share recipes, cooking tips etc. while also forming a platform to building a passionate community behind solar cooking.

Future Work:
The prototype will be further tested in the summer of 2014 with more recipes.

The project was initiated in 2013 as a part of the master course in produce design at Instituto Europeo Design Milano
Supporting company: TVS S.p.a. | Project Advisor: Chris Miller | Course Coordinator: Federico Ferretti


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