Singapore-designed tent for those made homeless a hit on Internet

Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher called it "innovation at its finest". American rapper Lil Wayne said it "could save millions of lives".

They were referring to a tent designed in Singapore offering privacy and protection for homeless people in extreme weather conditions.

The celebrities are among almost 200,000 people worldwide who have shared videos about it on Facebook.

The films, produced by various news sites, have garnered over 23 million views and 338,000 "likes" and reactions since they were posted last month.

The weatherHyde tent was tested by 12 homeless families in New Delhi in a six-month project that ended in June.

The tent was designed by billionBricks, a local non-profit group that aims to end homelessness, and has several benefits over communal shelters and typical tents:

  • It is weatherproof. In winter, the tent's triple-layer cover provides insulation, while reflective material on the inside traps body heat. In summer, the tent cover can be reversed to reflect solar heat so people inside stay cool.
  • It offers more privacy as the triple-layer cover means shadows are not cast.
  • It can be set up in 10 minutes without tools. It does not need to be tied to the ground with tent pegs, so it can be used in urban settings that are hit by natural disasters.
  • It can fit a family of two adults and three children, who may otherwise be separated in single-gender communal shelters.

The Singapore-designed weatherHyde tent for the homeless in extreme weather has been a hit on the Internet. (Photo: The Straits Times)

billionBricks co-founder Prasoon Kumar first sketched out the tent's design in 2014, after being inspired by an incident the year before.

In 2013, riots in a town in northern India left thousands of families homeless. More than 50 children died when temperatures fell to freezing levels at night, he said.

Mr Kumar, 39, who quit his architecture job of 12 years to set up billionBricks in 2013, said most communal shelters are dirty and unsafe.

"They typically house 50 to 60 people under one roof," he told The Straits Times. "You don't know who you're sleeping next to, whose things are next to your things. Husbands and wives live separately, and some families would rather sleep outside than in the shelters."

In the pilot project, one family said the tent was their first home and even moved a bed in. They had been living in shelters for six years, with the husband and wife living apart.

Following feedback from the trial, billionBricks intends to refine the design further, adding features such as solar lights, phone chargers and making the tents bigger.

The tent costs US$199 (S$270) but is not for sale yet, as the group is looking for partners to bring the tent to market and hopefully lower costs with economies of scale.

For now, people can indicate their interest to buy it. The group has received over 1,500 pre-orders. Mr Kumar said the tent may go on sale by the end of this year, adding that the publicity created was "unexpected".

He had approached US-based media group Fast Company, while software maker Autodesk, one of billionBrick's funders, wrote to Mashable Asia to ask them to consider writing about the tent.

"It was a coincidence that the articles by Fast Company and Mashable Asia were published around the same time. Those websites cover the US and Asia markets..." he said.

Other websites then learnt about the tent and spread the word online.

Currently, billionBricks is funded by several companies and groups, including DBS Bank, Autodesk and philanthropists. Mr Kumar hopes to raise more money to ship the tents to remote places.

billionBricks may even train the homeless to manufacture the tents themselves.

Though the tent was one of 12 winners of the internationally-acclaimed A' Design Award 2015 in the social design category, billionBricks is open to sharing details of the design with others.

Mr Kumar said: "Our vision is to end homelessness and we can't do it on our own. We want to keep innovating, let others run forward with the design and build on it."

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This article was first published on August 29, 2016.
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