Shelter Lab

A humanitarian effort focused on designing a secure,

cost-effective, modular shelter that will empower families

to rebuild their communities after disaster strikes.


To advance the state of the art in disaster shelters and associated technologies. While modular structures and various equipment and supplies exist to enable disaster relief or self-sustained living, there is no single solution to provide low cost, light weight, modular structures containing all technologies needed to support a family for medium to long term habitation in remote locations and without ready infrastructure. Such a product will enable local maintenance support with rudimentary tools and supplies, be self-sustaining, and provide a safe and secure home for displaced families. Furthermore, the ongoing support of these structures will enable a small industry to develop in these communities.

Ultimately, the Shelter Lab has a goal to develop a fully capable shelter prototype and deploy it to a 3rd world location by May 2017 for initial testing. The project is intended to extend beyond that date to complete full testing and manufacturing deployment, as well as further enhancements to the technologies required, and potential other products and applications.


The class is treated as a single team, with a rolling set of goals extending out 4 semesters. Each semester, sub-groups will work to achieve various goals required to attain the next major semester milestones. Furthermore, they will be required to participate in the review of current progress and adjust/set future goals. In this way, the members of the project will be fundamentally responsible to assure the successful development of the product according to the major milestones. The students will be assisted and supported by faculty and industry partners.

This project can be thought of a long term product development process, very similar in nature to a Capstone Design class. However, it is much more involved and spans many disciplines. While we currently have listed a small set of disciplines, it is clear that several departments from several colleges, including Engineering, Business & Economics, Health Sciences, and Arts and Sciences, to name a few, will participate during the course of the project.

Students will be involved in product development activities such as Market Research, Requirements Definition, Detailed Design, Prototyping, and Testing. While these activities are required to develop the end product(s) involved, it is also important to note that success will also require outreach (to customers/users, suppliers, and investors/partners), reports, presentations, teamwork skills, and project management.


As stated in the goals, several items currently exist on the retail market that enable one to be self-sustaining for a long period of time. However, these solutions tend to have high cost, tend to generate waste (spent carbon filters, batteries), have fixed life spans, or lack security. All technologies used to provide basic human shelter, potable water, sanitation, and communication need to be developed. The Shelter Lab will be tasked with developing integrated, self-sustaining modules which can be integrated into one, low cost, solution that can be deployed expediently to an area lacking all infrastructure.

To date: In the 2014-2015 academic year, several teams of students comprised of Mechanical and Civil Engineering students have developed basic designs related to the modular structure and component systems needed to ultimately support this project. However, due to the limited time and resources involved in such projects, only very limited prototyping can be achieved. These designs, and the data used to generate them, will be the starting point for Shelter Lab VIP. The lab will be able to use this input data to build upon, modifying as needed to develop the full implementation.


Meeting Time: M 11:00 am-12:00 pm
Advisors: Lynn Catlin (BME), Dr. Sondra Miller (CE)
Partners and Sponsors: Shelter Technologies, Inc.
Majors, Preparation, Interests:

  • ME: Statics, Mechanics of Materials, Machine Design, Thermodynamics, Heat Transfer, FEA, CAE
  • CE: Drinking Water, Waste Water, Sustainable Design, Waste to Energy, Structural Design
  • EE: Basic Electronics, Solar Power, Energy Storage Systems, Power Distribution, Interconnects
  • BA, MKTG: Market Research, Supply Chain Management, Business Development

Contact Information: Lynn Catlin: or