For Kennedy, a professor of The Practice of Architecture and co-owner of KVA Kennedy & Violich Architecture, Ltd, the idea was simple: engage solar design. A charging station was certainly a functional concept for a society that always needs to recharge, but it wasn’t necessarily new. The team needed to create a design that could reshape culture and help people think differently about renewable energy and energy generation.
“People are very eager to embrace reusable energy when it is designed stealthily or when it is put in the form of something they already know,” Kennedy explained.
What was more familiar than a chair?
The goal quickly became to create a chair design that could help change the way the public looked at energy, that also addressed some of the current problems that revolved around harvesting solar energy. Using basic solar panels was not going to be innovative enough. Made from glass, the panels were too heavy and took a significant amount of energy to create. The team wanted to use a material more efficient, so they turned to flexible photovoltaics.
The next hurdle the team had to face was a solar mechanism that could tilt the panels towards the sun. A chair with the ability to rock could do this. The chair would have to be interactive. A sensor was designed to tell the user where the chair was getting the most sun. From this information, the user, using his or her ability to balance, could tilt the chair in the right direction to maximize the energy. The chair’s body was made from softwood panels. Its curve was created by kerfing, a process traditionally used for creating guitars and lutes. The designers of the SOFT Rocker used digital kerfing, which utilizes a robotic arm to cut each pine panel with particular groves meant to perfectly fit into the next, almost like pieces of a puzzle. With the assistance of digital kerfing, the chair took on its curvaceous shape. Similar to lawn furniture, the SOFT Rocker could be left outside, even in the rain. The USB port was given a protective cap, similar to the cap of a gas tank. Soft power electronics would charge the 12-ampere-hour battery, helping to store energy from the sun. At night the chairs gave off a lovely green glow.
Kennedy and her team are hoping to find a manufacturer interested in producing the chairs. Although originally intended as public charging stations--places where people could come together and charge their devices while enjoying a quick lunch--the rockers could also be a nice addition to someone’s backyard. The softwood is very affordable, according to Kennedy. It’s the robotic arm for the digital kerfing that makes the final pricing of the chair hard to estimate. However Kennedy believes that SOFT Rockers could be created so more people could afford them. She also believes that the future will bring more designs similar to the SOFT Rocker. The belief goes back to the idea that the public is open to reusable energy when it is mixed with a form they already know.
“There are going to be some very interesting pairings,” says Kennedy. “Even old fashioned intuitive things of our everyday life, and this new layer of collecting energy, holding energy, distributing energy.”
Interested in manufacturing the SOFT Rocker? All furniture manufacturers with serious inquiries and experienced with digital fabrication capabilities, please message email@example.com.
SOFT Rocker Team
Sheila Kennedy, MIT Professor of the Practice of Architecture
James Bayless, UC MArch 2014, KVA Intern
Kaitlyn Bogenschutz, UC BS Arch 2013, KVA Intern
Wardah Inam, MIT PhD Candidate 2015, Electrical Engineering
Jungmin Nam, GSD MArch 2009, KVA Designer
Shevy Rockcastle, MIT SMarchS 2011
Phil Seaton, MIT MArch 2012
Matt Trimble, MIT MArch 2008, RADLAB
Adnon Zolij, MIT BS 2010, Electrical Engineer Vicor, Inc.