LANGPAD – The Power Rangers; An Analysis of the Endless Frontier and Solar Manufacturing in the United States
Osman, Rawan, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Powell, Harry, EN-Elec/Computer Engr Dept, University of Virginia
JACQUES, RICHARD, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
First, I would like to preface that my thesis and socio-technical paper are written in
relation to a hypothetical technical project that I proposed before beginning my capstone course.
After beginning my capstone project, I worked alongside four other electrical and computer
engineers in building a multi language keyboard device which serves as a computer peripheral
that simplifies typing in foreign languages. However, my thesis and socio-technical paper relate
to the societal developments around solar manufacturing, which relates to my initial technical
proposal for a photovoltaic-powered insulin pump.
United States solar and photovoltaic manufacturers are shutting down in the face of
foreign competition. Only one of today’s top ten solar manufacturers are American, and there
are fewer than 35,000 American jobs in solar manufacturing, with 162,000 in solar installation.
The predicament facing American solar manufacturers was recently highlighted by the closure of
solar thermal company SolarReserve in 2020. SolarReserve, a concentrated solar power plant in
Nevada, was forced to sell its projects after it never managed to achieve its average expected
monthly output. The plant’s failure is currently described as a failure in research and
development within the company.
While the number of solar manufacturers in the United States (U.S.) is decreasing, the
need for photovoltaics in medical devices is increasing. Photovoltaics (PVs) have risen as a
better alternative than batteries to power devices like pacemakers and sterilization equipment.
Insulin pumps for diabetics is a technology used by tens of thousands of Americans and are still
powered solely by batteries. These battery-powered devices inhibit many users from using the
technology appropriately due to the costly, time-consuming, and irritating issues of fast-depleting batteries. STS analyses are critical to this application of engineering practice to develop a sustainable solution that better operates in today’s photovoltaic market and political arena.
Technical Topic: Photovoltaic-Powered Insulin Pump
In my initial technical proposal, I sought to develop an insulin pump technology powered
by flexible, thin-film photovoltaics. This would provide users with the benefits of a technology
that requires less maintenance, and thus leads to the benefits of fewer injections, more
convenience, more stable blood sugar, and more accurate insulin delivery. Currently, the pump
and display of an insulin pump are the only parts of a pump that require external power sources.
Both are battery-powered, typically by AAA alkaline batteries, size E92, type LR03. These
batteries generally must be replaced each week, otherwise the pump suspends insulin delivery.
Photovoltaic technology has risen as a better alternative to the costly and timely process
of recharging and replacing batteries for medical devices. Yet, despite the increasing prevalence
of solar-powered medical devices and the benefits of flexible solar cells, photovoltaic technology
has not been applied to diabetes insulin pumps. Consequently, insulin pumps continue to require
high levels of care and vigilance for proper usage and cannot be used by diabetics with limited
access to weekly supplies to batteries due to barriers like the financial cost, natural disasters, or
their location in the world. Moreover, the alarm sound continues to drive users away from using
the technology. This technical project aims to solve this problem by using a flexible, thin-film
photovoltaic to develop self-powered wearable insulin pumps.
STS Topic: Solar Reserve & Declining U.S. Solar Manufacturing
In my STS project, I propose a more holistic, socio-technical analysis that also draws on
the Actor Network Theory (ANT) to consider the influence of social, political, and economic
influences. For successful deployment, my technical project’s technology must be manufactured
in a heterogeneous network that considers both the technical and social aspects of the network.
SolarReserve, although a solar thermal company, is a model for the broader solar industry.
Current analyses of SolarReserve’s shut down only reflect on the technical failures in research
and development. The actors I analyze include the 2018 tariffs on solar imports, the U.S.
Innovation and Competition Act, and reliance on Vannevar Bush’s letter “Science: The Endless
Frontier” in shaping science, innovation, and manufacturing policy.
Today, solar-powered medical devices play a vital role in saving lives and improving
health outcomes around the world. I learned that there is a need for alternatives to traditional
battery-powered insulin pumps. Moreover, I learned that for a photovoltaic solution to be
manufactured within the United States, there must be a more complete understanding of why
American solar capacity, both for solar thermal plants like SolarReserve’s and for manufacturing, has rapidly exported outside of the United States. In completing this research, I gained an understanding of Vannevar Bush’s “Science, The Endless Frontier” and the strong influence it has over science and technology in the United States today.
I would like to thank Professor Harry Powell for his guidance in my technical capstone
proposal and Dr. Jacques Richard for his instruction and assistance in my STS research. My
gratitude extends to Professor Rider Foley, who expanded my knowledge around technology
policy, and Professor Mool Gupta, who kindled my curiosity in photovoltaics. I would also like
my mother and friends, along with my peers, for their support throughout this process.
The Power Ranger’s technical capstone project is called the LANGPAD, a linguistic system device that provides easy access to special characters from the Roman alphabet found outside of the English language. The project involves the use of a MSP430 programmed to use the expanded ASCII language, attached to an LCD touch-screen that displays the special characters available of its respective language, with the current options available being Spanish, French, and Greek. A PCB will work as the interface between the two components and the communication to the user’s computers will be done through USB connection. The project was successful in achieving its proposed functionality and was even expanded beyond the proposed final product by adding a third language: Greek. This product is expected to improve the experience of writing in foreign languages, as well as other cases that require special characters for technical reports. A great deal of knowledge and experience was attained in the engineering design and construction process.
BS (Bachelor of Science)
Solar; Power; Photovoltaics; Manufacturing; The Endless Frontier; Manufacturing; Build Back Better; Actor Network Theory; Linguistics; Language; Tablet
School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Harry Powell
STS Advisor: Richard Jacques
Technical Team Members: Rohan Chandra, Emory Ducote, Christopher Hamilton, Pedro Rodriguez
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)