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High Tech Umbrella for the Haj

By Katie Beiter | The Media Line

August 23, 2016

Photo: Courtesy of Manal Dandis

Solar powered umbrella to ease journey to Mecca  

A Palestinian woman and a Saudi man have teamed up to create a new “smart” umbrella, which uses solar energy to power the umbrella which comes with USB ports, a fan, a flashlight, and a GPS system, to help pilgrims on their annual Haj to Mecca, which begins September 9.

The solar powered umbrella, called the Kafya, co-created by Palestinian consultant Manal Dandis and Saudi Arabian researcher and environmental engineer Kamel Badawi, was invented to combat the extreme heat common to Mecca and is even fitted with a GPS system to help locate lost friends and family.

“We started our idea from the haj,” Dandis said. “My partner was a volunteer with the haj for 40 years and he knows exactly what the haj needs. In Mecca, there are no adapters for electricity and there are three or four million people who need to charge their mobile phones. Sometimes people lose each other. It is also very hot in Saudi Arabia and older people need walking sticks.”

Because temperatures can range from 86 to even 113 degrees Fahrenheit, pilgrims often use umbrellas as protection from the sun while performing the Haj. Kafya comes outfitted with a fan to keep its users cool to avoid sometimes life threatening health conditions.

“Many people suffer from medical issues while on the haj and the most common medical conditions due to communicative diseases and overcrowding are influenza, overheat, and burning tents,” Abdulaziz Al Mudaiheem of the King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences said in an email.

“The umbrella has solar panels and a USB adapter to charge a mobile phone,” Dandis told The Media Line. “The hand of the umbrella works as a power bank so you can have your power bank everywhere you go.”

The “all in one” Kafya umbrella has a mini USB portal; a USB portal; a power bank on the side of the hand of the umbrella; a light at the end of the handle; 16 solar panels made from folding, light-weight fabrics and can even be used as a cane.  The electricity from the solar panels goes directly to the power bank in the handle.

There are three switches which can turn the flashlight and the fan on or off and another switch which automatically opens the umbrella. The umbrella can also be charged through an electrical outlet.

The Haj, which is a holy pilgrimage to Mecca and considered to be one of the five pillars of Islam, is the biggest annual gathering of people in the world. Last year, approximately two million Muslims performed the Haj. Temperatures can range from 86 to even 113 degrees Fahrenheit.

According to a study conducted at the Institute of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques for Haj and Umrah Research, there were almost 2,000 heat-related medical issues.

The study also noted that for the next ten years, the Haj will take place between June and September, notably the hottest months in Saudi Arabia.

Don’t expect the umbrella to be ready for September’s haj, though.

“We started making this umbrella and we just started connecting with companies,” Dandis said. “Now we will start doing our crowd funding and start selling it online to people who wish to purchase it.”

She and Badawi wish to manufacture at least a million umbrellas in the Middle East, and the cost will be “cheap,” Dandis said, although she refused to give an exact price.

Kafya is just one of a number of technological inventions, like smartphone applications and electronic bracelets, created to cater to the influx of pilgrims and to increase efficiency at Mecca during the busy haj.

Katie Beiter is a student journalist with The Media Line


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