Sensol Systems: Phase 1

Executive Summary:

This project draws on interdisciplinary expertise and creativity in developing luminaire speed bumps powered by solar energy to sustainably and innovatively improve safety at the University of Washington (UW) Seattle Campus. Ultimately, we want to implement the highest performing prototype to the most trafficked, least illuminated paths on campus to keep students, faculty, and staff safe. Addressing the UW’s Campus Landscape Framework objective of creating connections across the “mosaic” of the Central Campus, this prototype will improve circulation through an iconic landscape, create a unique experience, increase safety, and create opportunities for collaboration between students and industry partners. 

A hybrid solar system, meaning a system that can be both off-grid and grid-tied depending on conditions and need, will be used to power luminaires embedded in a temporary, modular speed bump. This reliably improves safety and visibility without permanently changing roadways. The modular configuration also facilitates maintenance and flexibility. 

These speed bumps would be located at different points of the Burke Gilman trail so when feet, wheelchairs, or bicycles pass over them a sensor will be triggered and spot illumination will be delivered almost instantly. The greatest load to pass over these speed bumps will be small campus vehicles, materials will be selected based on their load carrying capacity. 

Student Involvement:


We are advocating for student involvement at every point and every level of the project. It is a student run team that is designing for students. We are inclusive, always willing to include other disciplines and expertise. Additionally, we envision the long-term management and maintenance of this project to be conducted and funded by the work of a future student team. There is potential for this to be carried out in an interdisciplinary studio similar to the McKinnely Futures Studio offered by the College of Built Environments.

At this stage of the project, we are looking for undergraduates and graduates that are interested
in the development and prototyping of the project (see outreach section above). Though, we are
a team predominantly of graduate students and PhD students, we offer a unique opportunity for
undergraduates. If we were to have interested undergraduates in the fields mentioned in the previous
section on Outreach, we would offer a mentorship component to the project, especially if they are
at the beginning of their university experience. We would then benefit from a fresh perspective and
they from experience. We are hoping to foster relationships with UW Solar and Engineers Without
Borders. In this way, we are truly inclusive.

In terms of affecting students, faculty, and staff at the University of Washington, as previously
mentioned, this project will increase safety and awareness of pedestrians at crosswalks. This is a
large issue with a large rippling effect of behavior change. We want our campus to be as safe as

Education & Outreach:

Behavior change: Providing luminous circulation and connection throughout the UW campus, regardless of weather conditions or damage to the grid, will likely help pedestrians feel more secure and independent, while cyclists and drivers will be alerted to movement around them. 

Outreach: This project will provide the student team first-hand experience in product development, fabrication, and prototype testing (before proceeding down the implementation route). It will support the efforts of the university to improve the campus’ experiential qualities; update, control, and maintain campus lighting; and ensuring that campus users feel safe. As a team we have done individual, department, and mass outreach (not only to find more students to participate on our team, but also to bring awareness to this new safety approach). We have sent out advertisements for more team members to the Graduate and Professional Student Senate (GPSS), Associated Students of the University of Washington (ASUW), the Mechanical Engineering Department, the Electrical Engineering Department, Applied Math Department, Civil Engineering Department, Construction Management Department, Computer Science Department, Materials Sciences Department, Architecture Department, Urban Planning: Transportation Planning, and the Landscape Architecture Department. 

Education: Students will be exposed to unprecedented sustainable technology applications and the learning opportunities that come with its operation. Additionally, the larger UW community will act as a testing ground for revolutionary infrastructure. The system will need to be inspected and maintained, this too will provide data collection and technology optimization opportunities. This project also builds on the Campus Illumination Roadmap previously supported by Campus Sustainability Fund, and could be included in their research. 


Environmental Impact:
  • Energy Use
  • Transportation
  • Environmental Justice
  • Community Development
Project Longevity:

Environmental Problem:

The UW campus has some paths where students feel unsafe at night due to poor lighting. Furthermore, due to Seattle’s weather and geographic location, it is often dark during key commuting hours. Campus safety for pedestrians is particularly important as many students, at UW and other colleges, choose walking as their primary mode of transit. Lack of safety in areas of high traffic, mixed-mode transportation can not only lead to physical injuries, but potentially a culture of distrust and fear detrimental to a sense of community or an atmosphere of solidarity. From a broader perspective, implementing adequate lighting infrastructure can be difficult in marginalized, low income, or rural communities since the costs of streetlight hardware, connection to the grid, and maintenance are often prohibitive. The expense of car ownership leads more people to walk or bike across longer distances, making safe crosswalks even more vital. Additionally, electricity from the grid can come from non-renewable sources, such as coal or natural, and it can be difficult for a local community to find an option for their street lighting that is powered by renewable energy.

The utilization of LED technology results in greater longevity and energy efficiency, with less energy loss to heat, than other sources of light- providing adequate lighting for users without dramatically disrupting surrounding ecosystems. The lighting technology will harvest and store its own energy, releasing fewer greenhouse gases than coal-powered electric grids. The lighting system has the capability to rely on the grid in the event of solar power failure. The controller will need to rely on external power, which for the time being is grid-tied. This prototype will also address the social/cultural sustainability aspects of road safety. Currently, the impacts of a night time accident are disproportionately higher for pedestrians than for drivers or cyclists. By creating better lighting at crosswalks, safety is improved in a more equitable fashion,
regardless of transportation choice. Accompanying this technology is the need for education and training on its maintenance and benefits. This would allow open dialogue and information exchange, empowering communities and allowing the technology to be culturally relevant. Finally, while this project’s focus is to increase safe mobility, it will do so while ensuring environmental safety. In selecting products and materials, we willl make our best efforts to exclude “Red Listed” materials. The Red List was developed by the International Living Futures Institute and catalogues chemicals known to have hazardous effects on human, animal, and environmental health, e.g. lead, BPA, cadmium, mercury, etc. We will consider the potential for off-gassing, leaching, or leaking when we develop the component. Toxicity is a great concern to the project team, and safeguarding against it for all direct and indirect users is essential.

Explain how the impacts will be measured:

This project will make use of a tool that is often used in sustainability evaluation: triple bottom-line analysis. The project will be examined according to its environmental impacts, its social impacts, and its economic impacts. 

The main environmental targets of this project included reducing GHGs through alternative energy; consequently, we would like to estimate the decrease in GHGs caused by switching from a conventionally powered electrical to the new technology as closely as possible using available research. The prototype will be evaluated to see its positive benefits.The average monthly energy usage will also be calculated along with the efficiency and life span of the prototypes. Another key environmental indicator that will be measured is light output (in lux). The light output will then be used to determine the extent to which the prototypes reduce light pollution and to ensure that the light provided is not overly disruptive of animal habitat. 

For the second portion of the triple bottom line analysis, a number of social indicators will be examined. We hope to conduct a survey pre- and post- prototype installation to ask students how safe they feel at the test locations and which mode of transport they use. This survey will be useful in prototype refinement and in ensuring that pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists all feel safe at the installation locations. We will also measure the number of accidents at the prototype sites to further evaluate safety, with a particular emphasis on pedestrians. 

The economic impacts and economic sustainability of this project are vital, as the technology will hopefully be used both at UW, in Seattle, and in more marginalized communities. The costs to build and maintain the prototypes will be evaluated with an eye towards making the technology as cheap as possible while still maintaining quality and functionality.


Total amount requested from the CSF:
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