Introduction: The Solar Powered Super Cool Social Networking Hat - Spirit of Invention: National Archives UK

About: Black sheep engineer, Chartered, and very silly. Currently living in the UK. I have been fortunate to have lived, studied and worked in Hong Kong, Norway and California. I believe physical models help people…

This is a hat with 3 solar powered cooling fans in it, which I made for the National Archives' exhibition: "The Spirit of Invention" in June 2023. It was inspired by at record of an invention (an old design registration kept by the National Archives) that was submitted in 1823 by John Fuller & Company, as a solution to the problem of one's head getting hot whilst out an about at social gatherings wearing a hop hat. My task was to create an 'modern response' to this inspiration...and to 'trust the process of invention' to also inspire me along the way!

As can be seen from the images, it has solar panels, which power the cooling fans: The hotter it is, the faster the fans attempt to cool you, which is a nice connection to make to explain this relationship to kids, as well as of course using sustainable energy, albeit in a whimsical way. The 'social networking' aspect for teaching kids about safety online, really evolved through the weeks of working on this (as did the idea to make a real blueprint!).

This Instructable is a mix of my chronological process, and I'm pleased to say - a testament to the maxim many designers say, but which nonetheless is often daunting when under the pressure of a deliverable: For me 'trusting the process' is about accepting the duality that in order to surprise and impress Oneself / The Client, the brutal irony is that one can't have it all figured out on Day 1!

Having worked for the likes of Dyson through to LEGO, on projects as diverse as novel medical devices to future concepts of cities, the best projects are when things go beyond what you expected. Arguably the difference of 'experience' between now and my younger self - is that I readily brace myself for increasingly large doses of this 'unknown quotient' in the project. The bit I'm still learning, is how much to tell the client "I'm gonna be winging this for a while - but trust me - it'll pay off!". I presented at TEDx Imperial College, if you're interested in this subject matter.

Anyway, what follows is an overview, warts and all, of my process in working for a very illustrious client, and hoping that I delivered beyond my initial brief. Having attended the opening event, it's been amazing to see that people not only enjoyed the hat at 'first encounter', but then really loved it's commentary on the Social Networking (Online) aspect - and the provocation to question how much of ourselves we put out there in the world. The hat has morphed into a 'discussion aid' for helping kids to consider what they would 'keep under their hat' (ie keep private / not online), and what they are happy to have 'for all to see' (ie safe to talk to anyone about), as well as of course keeping you looking and feeling cool in social situations!


The materials and electronics are as follows:

3x Solar Panels 1.5v (link)

3x Mini Motors (link)

1x Pack of A2 Thick Card (500gsm) (link)

1x Cyanotype Ink Set (link)

3x 2ply Ribbon Cables (link)

The hat was modelled in CAD, after taking some measurements of a cardboard (brown packaging boxes) prototype, and 3D printed in white PLA, with a 0.6mm nozzle at 'standard' resolution, on an Ender 3 printer.

Additional materials include: cardboard, super glue, hot melt glue, PVA glue, masking tape, paper clips,

Additional tools include: scalpel, stapler, soldering iron, piers, clamps, scissors,

Risks/Heads-up: Arguably the making of this has more risky than the actual use (soldering, knives, hot glue), but that said I would not leave this alone with very young kids as there are small parts and spinning fan blades. The good news is that the motors are so weak that they'd be unlikely to hurt much. But please make the call yourself.

Step 1: The National Archives and the Bona Fide Hat

I was sent this intriguing design by The National Archives, and left to figure out a 'modern response' to it. If you look closely, you can see this has holes in the top, which is fine, if this were a kettle steaming, but with the delta between the inside temp of the hat and the outside being likely no more than 10-15 degrees, it's fair to say the hot isn't going to rush out. Nor is it likely to 'flow', or should I say 'convect', as for that you'd need air vents also in the lower portion.

I asked the National Archives if this was a real product, as in my opinion as an engineer, this was not going to really do such a great job, and they replied to say many such designs were registered as a 'speculative' notion, and it by no means meant it would be productised. So although we have no evidence to say it was not made into a real thing, there are no hats we found that have been either, suggesting this the 'physics issue' may have been realised once they tried it. Interestingly the National Archives pointed out that in the Victorian Era, the mindset around registration of designs (or patents) was more casual than it is today - costs were relatively lower, and so people did just 'take a punt' at stuff more readily, compared to now.

Anyway, as is often the case with ideas - even 'bad' ones - they often trigger something else. And to come full-circle here, this is why I think kid ideas, which are often 'crazy' in the eyes of adults need a longer look, as often there is a kernel of something of value. In my opinion, it'd be easy to laugh this victorian hat off as a dumb idea, but the *insight* was not wrong at all - hats most certainly do get hot and sweaty. So in fairness I'm only 'building' upon a good insight and making it better with technology which was not available back then (despite what Steampunk enthusiasts may tell you - hehe!).

As you can see from my initial brief, I was having to trust the solar powered part as a 'starting point' and had not yet had any notions around blueprints, social media, personal expression in a crowd, etc. That was all to come - and so read on...

Step 2: The Science Bit - How Much Sunshine Is Needed to Power the Cooling Fans?

"Lux" is the technical term for 'illuminance' and is related to 1 candle illuminating 1 square meter. What might amaze you is that if you walk out of a reasonably well lit room (this might be about 1,300Lux), into a moderately bright but overcast day (ie not so bright you squint), (on my meter - 85,200Lux) - this actually had a different of anywhere between 60-70 times difference.

This means your eye is compensating for a VAST difference in light intensity, and it does this in a split second. (The reason you sometimes still 'can't see' when you go from outside to indoors is not because your pupil is slow, but because the receptors in your retinas are taking longer to adjust).

One of the things that I truly love about Engineering as a profession is that you always end up looking afresh at something nature does and it's simply astounding. Certainly as a parent, answering myriad 'Why?' questions from my 7 year old, a little engineering goes a long way - not because you know everything, but because you have been trained to deconstruct things into smaller 'pieces' to investigate. It's like realising a sandwich has 'components', and each has its own process to get there. The sandwich didn't just 'happen' on a shelf in a shop.


My approach here was to 'validate' the concept quickly, and to tackle the most 'risky' part, which was the electronics. There was no point making a cool hat, if I needed a A2-sized Solar Panel to power a tiny fan. I have not show ALL the tests I did, but surprisingly, 'bigger' was not always better, and I had a big Solar Panel which performed worse than the smaller ones. I even asked a solar panel expert I know, and the simple answer was that it was a bit of a 'black art' of matching a 'raw' panel, with a motor. (ie I had no power management (battery or capacitor) in between panel and motor, so things get 'complex' in the physics). The short of it was that it's better to try a bunch of stuff quickly and find out a good pairing, rather than go through a detailed tech analysis, which given many panels don't publish such details readily for a ~$5 panel, this is a waste of time, frankly.

Sometimes the 'Edison'-style was of trying all the things pays off over pure theory ('Tesla'-style).

This was one such case.

Engineering test the 'critical' part first, the 'fun stuff' of hat making can then proceed in confidence.


What I learned was that I needed 1 panel per motor, and I measures the voltage output at different distances, angles and combinations, as show. I was confident it'd work in a brightly lit room, but best outdoors (in even very 'low' daylight). So this was good enough for the brief.


In case you're wondering why I didn't charge a battery, firstly, as this was designed for kids I felt it more important that they appreciated the 'tacit relationship' between "more light = more fan speed = more cooling". There was a poetic aspect of this I didn't feel would be the same with a battery, even if charged via solar / green means. Secondly, LiPo batteries are a bit of a risk-assessment nightmare for the client, so best avoided if it didn't 'add' anything critical.

Step 3: First Pass Prototype

If you've followed my work on social media - in particular YouTube - you'll know I go on and on about the importance of kids (and big kids) making quick prototypes out of card, and how this answer many questions, sometimes in seconds. The other good thing about working in a cheap material is that you don't get 'precious' about working with it, so this Amazon Box allowed me to work out the fit on my head pretty quickly, how my hair interacted, if my ears got in the way, was it too close to my brow, too tall, etc.

I had worked a lot in card as a kid, but even when I 'made it' to work at Dyson, with its millions of pounds on R&D spend, we still used cardboard a lot to get arguably 80% of the basic form down.

Step 4: Ergonomics & Cooling Effect

Working in card, I was able to quickly try out a few places I'd want the air inlets to come in/out. This was made from ABS plastic tubes, with some super glue, but arguably could have been done in 3D printing. (I'm just faster in physical modelling).

I made sure the fans were placed in such a way to allow air to pass over my head, and not just become obstructed by my hair/head.

I also checked that even my curly hair didn't get trapped in the fan. Not a huge risk (low torque motors) but good to avoid of course!

Step 5: Exploring Aesthetics

Moving from brown card to white card was sensible, as firstly I wanted kids to make these, using scissors (thick card needed a knife to cut out), but also white card offered some different aesthetic opportunities, be they printing, decals, or hand drawings, etc.

You may notice, I left the sides 'straight', as although I could make the hat sides 'bow out' using multiple segments (like a balloon or a cap), but this would be too tricky for kids to do in a quick workshop, so I 'kept it simple', and I think the overall 'statement' of the hat is not lacking because of this missing aesthetic.


That said....I was not sure what to put on the outside of the hat...

So one thing I had learned as a creative/engineer, is that when stuck - go do something else, (in this case - the electronics), and trust the ideas would come if I kept mulling it over in the back of my head. This is one of teh easiest pieces of advice I give to younger people, but is one of the hardest to cultivate, and walk that line between being 'aware' of the problem, but neither forgetting/ignoring it, but also not freaking out or getting angry not to have solved it yet.

The National Archives wanted 'process' - well this is process - but time was ticking! Eeek!!

Step 6: 3D Printing

I realised that the Fans needed a proper housing, and one which kept the edges of the fan from hitting your fingers so easily. The files are above.

Step 7: Wiring

Some basic wiring of the motors to the panels, with ribbon cable, which has the advantage of holding itself in place when incorporated into the final design (where loose wires would flap about).

Test it all works before you put it all together in the hat!

Step 8: Finishing Touches

Optional: This is arguably not critical, but I added a metal 'loop' to retain the wires in place, as shown.

Take care to check the assembly / alignment of the parts before you super glue.

Step 9: A Eureka Moment!

I was mulling over what to do with the design of the hat. I was watching a recent adaptation of David Copperfield on TV, partly because it was written by Dickens and set in the Victorian Era, the same as the Bona Fide Hat.

Also, it's an interesting take on having a mixed race cast, and scripts the film 'colourblind'. I was curious to see how they approached the issue of top hats and afros/curly hair, as being mixed race myself and with pretty curly hair, I wanted to see if they managed to restyle this headgear in a compelling way that was culturally and aesthetically attuned.

I think it's fair to say the 'jury is still out' on this the subject of how successful this directorial decision is (a couple examples here and here), but as is often the way sometimes 'one thing leads to another' - and the afro-top-hat combo remained unresolved, this sent me on a tangent to think also about how social interactions are themselves pretty tricky.

I had been exploring the idea of making the outside graphics of the hat a 'homage' to the Victorian inventors, but I aware this was going to be mostly men, and although this was a a product of the times, it was not really a contemporary message I wanted to lead with for this generation of young inventors.

Because of these 'tensions', I was thinking about how to have a better 'icebreaker' in a party (be it now, or in Victorian times). Having read Dale Carnegie's How To Make Friend & Influence People, and just recommended it to a somewhat engineer friend who was anxious about networking and public speaking, it felt apt to realise most inventors I knew were not great at starting up a conversation in a room of strangers - but they are pretty good at talking about what they are excited about, which is usually their inventions! This was an interesting insight, focussed by Carnegie's book.

"Wear Your Heart On Your Sleeve" suddenly became "Wear Your Inventions In Plain Sight - On Your Hat"!

I realised this had a nice double function: as in Inventor for a few decades, I could draw some of my inventions on the hat, as a fun range of things kids could associate with being an inventor, but also then encourage them to do the same. Each hat would be individual to the wearer, and an "Ice Breaker"...

...The pun to 'Ice Breaking', 'Being Cool' by Fans, and feeling socially 'cool' through having something enjoyable to strike up a conversations seemed a great poetic fit for the project. So I set to work designing the *outside* of the hat.

Step 10: My Inventions on the Outside

I did a bunch of sketches of my various projects I've enjoyed over the year, somewhat of a visual/graphic Resume on a hat. Although I personally feel this is a little egotistical to 'play it straight', I'd like to think the style of graphics was not taking itself too seriously. Certainly, most people who've seen me wear it have laughed rather than felt intimidated. Make of that what you will ;o)

Step 11: A Eureka Encore!

It occurred to me that all things I was *comfortable* talking about were on the OUTSIDE of my Hat, and that I could perhaps put the things I was less comfortable talking about on the INSIDE of the Hat.

Another Victorian reference was considering the Suit - which of course goes with the Top Hat. Since the start of the project, I'd been thinking about how many suits are quite 'smart' and plain on the outside, but the silk lining on the inside is usually quite fancy and ostentatious.

Underneath a formal exterior, there is arguably a more expressive and personal interior.

I realised that this hat has a poetic duality, and a degree of agency and choice - to whom does one show/share their innermost thoughts/ideas/personality with? What if the Hat made a feature of this?

To give more 'function' or a 'reason' for this, I felt this was a simple to understand 'teaching aid' for kids and parents to discuss online safety. Quite simply - asking "would you share that [image/message/info] online with a friend or a stranger" was easily translated into "would you share that [image/message/info] with a friend or a stranger - inside or outside your hat?".

Without getting too detailed here, this avoids the need to necessarily get into the worst of online threats, when trying to talk to a young child. One does not need to explain adult terms to invoke fear, and can keep the conversation simple and non threatening, yet still landing the key messages.

For me, this was a really unexpected point in the *process*, and I certainly never imagined the Cooling Hat would become an education device to help keep kids safe online and perhaps make discussions less tricky for parents.

Step 12: The "What If?" Machine - AI in the Process of Inventing a Blueprint Hat

Around the time I was working on this, in early 2023, AI was suddenly 'blowing up'.

Programmes like Mid-Journey and OpenAi's Dall-E were exploding and many creatives and journalists were playing with them to explore what they could do. Even at the time of writing this, there has been much debate on the ethics and creativity of such things.

The irony is not lost on me that I've just written about 'online safety' and am now just about to wax lyrical about a very nascent technology, which is far from 'totally safe', so if you are a minor reading this, please check with your parents before playing around with it. And if you are a parent wanting to let their kid play around with such technology, I would proceed with caution. I personally use a 'burner' account/login for such things, that is disconnected from my personal account/details. This is not fraud or ID faking, but the equivalent of having a 'for Spam' email. Make your own call on if you feel safe engaging with such things.

Anyway, as they say "I took a look at this - so you don't have to"...

I wanted to see how Mid Journey would react to my prompting it to create hats which used blueprints, and were in a victorian top hat style. I typed in:

Men's Victorian Hat with Solar Powered Cooling Propellor Fans build into the side of the Hat for ventilation. 3 Vent Holes. Hat is coloured blue like a cyanotype blueprint. Intricate drawings of engineering and design process in blueprint style. Fan is in 3 faces of the hat body.

This yielded a variety of images, some as you can see are very weird and not viable/feasible to make or wear with any practicality. I would suggest if you are new to AI image generation, that if you consider Google a 'What is?' machine, then Mid Journey is a 'What if?' machine. It's like if Salvador Dali (hence Dall E), was thinking up something like a dream. It takes your prompts and 'diffuses' (mixed), them together, in a way which yields a semi-believable result that is not just a jumble of pixels. This is why the method is called 'stable diffusion'.

Debates around creativity have raged online so much, I will not bother judging them here, but my personal perspective is that you do get 'garbage in - garbage out'. You have to learn how to prompt it to get close to what you want. Secondly, 'close' is the operative word. It will not easily give you what is 'in your head', so my advice is to consider it like a 'buddy' that reacts to things you throw at it, much is junk, but some stuff make you think differently and that might be valuable. AI is not a 'shortcut' and does not 'do the work for you', so National Archives can rest assured I didn't cheat - haha!


What I did take did take from this 'diversion' into AI imaging - was to consider the blueprint technique throughly. And indeed, when looking at the history of blueprints - or their proper name - Cyanotypes, this too was a Victorian invention. Not gonna lie, I got 'lucky' there, but looks very clever to tell my client that of course ;o)

As you can infer from my 'prompt' above in bold, my idea was pretty formed by this point, so I was really only using AI as a 'finishing critique' rather than a 'starting point'. Perhaps I may feel differently, but at the time of writing this, Summer 2023, it is a good 'stimuli' but not replacing the hard work of coming up with ideas just yet...

Step 13: DIY Cyanotypes & Why Craft Matters

Right off the bat, I knew I can do this all on my iPad Pro / Apple Pencil - and print on large paper. It would save a HUGE amount of trouble and effort, but it's just not as fun. Sometimes by engaging with the craft of a process you learn something and feel more connected to the work.

The fact this took me perhaps 3-4 weekends to perfect Cyanotype Printing is also what allowed me to consider the project deeply. In doing so, I realised yet another nice poetic link - my hat with it's SOLAR powered Fans, was also CREATED by the SUN, through UV rays!

I was on an artistic/philosophical/pretentious roll here. I'd be amazed if anyone spots this or cares - but I did - and it felt great to have all these themes converging so nicely. Woo!

Anyway, there is no step-by-step here, as honestly it's all here, and on Youtube.

I tested out 5 different markets on plastic sheet (1mm thick PETG or Acrylic) to see what worked best when exposed to sunshine. I recommend POSCA Pens at they block the most UV (give brightest lines), but if not Staedtler work great also, and don't scratch off so easily.

Step 14: The Big Moment: Committing Designs to Plastic

I placed the pencil sketches underneath the plastic sheet and drew the designs on top. This took a fair amount of time, but felt pretty cool to consider how Victorian Engineers would have done something similar many years ago for their Inventions.

As I didn't have a heavy glass plate to hold everything in place, I had to settle for placing the plastic on a while-board, and sandwiching the treated cyanotype card between it.

What isn't obvious is that in the UK sunshine in March is pretty patchy, so I was actually quite stressed some days waiting for a bit of strong direct sunlight to get sharp lines. If it's too hazy / overcast, the lines are not as sharp as the exposure takes 2-3 times as long and the shadows are more diffuse.

Step 15: 3rd Time's a Charm!

In my bathtub I was washing the sheets of card, and then hanging them out to dry on the washing line.

What I can say from the experience, if that if you wanted a 'rustic' look, just slap the ink on ask you like. However, if like me you are inclined to perfecting a technique, you should brush the ink on, and whilst still flowing/wet, brush it side-to-side, then top-to-bottom-, then corner-to-corner (both ways), this really removes any streaking or patches in the print. I would go as far as to say these are comparable to professional grade prints if you do this, having seen a few since in a museum or two since.

Also, once you have washed them off, hang out in sunshine again as this 'finishes' off the colour and deepens it nicely to a deep blue. I then ironed them to get them extra-flat whilst still ever so slightly damp, using some baking paper to avoid messing up our household iron/board!! (Yes: My wife is a Saint).

Lastly, unlike most Cyanotypes, I made mine double-sided, just to add extra challenge for myself, so these take some care to align just right.

Step 16: Cut Out the Designs

Cut out as shown.

Step 17: Staples and Glue

I used PVA to allow for repositioning (rather than use Super Glue). I used Staples to hold the pieces of card in place once glued. These are removed later quite easily.

Step 18: Clamp & Leave Overnight

I used two planks of wood and some 'quick grips' to set the hat in place to dry. The next day removing the staples.

Step 19: Cutting Out the Brims

Using the 3D Printed borders as a guide, I cut out the Hat Top and Hat Brims, as shown.

Step 20: Cut Tabs

I marked/scribed a little way into the hat, and then cut to the mark for the tabs. In hindsight I could have added this to the blueprint, but it's 'hidden' later anyway, so not much need.

Remove any 'double thickness' areas as shown.

Step 21: Check Fit // Thicken

Check that the Brims fit over the Main Body of the hat as shown. Trim a little as needed.

The first version, I had the Brim as just being the thickness of the card, but as the designs were double-sided deliberately, I had two copies, so realised I could back both sides of some corrugated card - making it more chunky.

This turned out to be a nice improvement, as it make the hat look less 'paper thin' and more substantial, even if the interior is of course just 1mm thick, the Brim is about 8mm thick.

Later on I added a 'finishing strip', but don't do this now, as it'll get knocked.

Step 22: Weigh Down to Dry

Similar to clamping earlier, using weight helps keep the glued pieces flat. I simply used small food cans to do this and left for a few hours.

Also adding the 'banding' 3D printed strip now will work nicely too.

Step 23: Hat Top

I added the interior 'lip' to the Hat Top as shown, and fixed with Super Glue. If use use PVA, remember to clamp or apply pressure.

I then punched some holes to thread the wires through later.

I also added some holes to feed some wire (staples) to retain the wires in place for later. This is quite fiddly and I suggest marking it up (as shown with a pencil) before gluing.

Step 24: Fitting the Fans

Carefully cut the holes out as shown (trust me this is better (though not easier) than doing it flat, where the shape will warp). Check the fit of the 3D printed fan enclosure, and assemble as shown. Add props.

Thread the wires up and out the top as show - ready to solder up.

Step 25: Solar Panels

Use Hot Melt (or PVA) to stick down the 'frames' for the Solar Panels.

Solder on the wires as shown. Leave enough slack to allow for good bend radius when placing back down.

Step 26: Finishing Strip / Felt Liner

Using some of the leftover blue card, I joined two sections together, by cutting a 'wedge' in either piece and joining together and clamping whilst drying.

I also added some felt inside in a similar method, to make it feel more soft on your head, and also avoid sweat/oil from skin getting into the cardboard.

Step 27: Gallery

So there you have it. The Super Cool Social Networking Hat, inspired by Victorian's inventions, blueprints, and social interactions, with a modern twist of green energy and tech to keep your cool, with a novel use of psychology and fashion to also broach the subject on online safety with parents and kids.

What will you do if you made one?

Step 28: Instructions for a Simpler Hat

You may not be able to do all the fancy stuff with kids, but you can certainly have a go at making a basic card hat as shown. This was the guide as shown in the exhibition in London.

Step 29: Design Before / After?

Some kids prefer to draw on the finished object, some to do it flat and then build it up. Both have their pros and cons, see which you find best!

Step 30: Gallery of Kids Hat Making

This was actually a whole thing in itself. When I was given the brief by the National Archives, I was told they wanted a workshop, but they couldn't use glue (for archival reasons), but long story short this explains why the design above is only using a stapler, and no glue.

This was a really hard challenge, but also great fun - the whole 'limited palette improves creativity' thing, so I'm rather pleased with how this come together, and was made by a some kids on the very first day of opening! The key difference is that the top of the hat is 'inset' to make for easier assembly, but this is quite fun, and kids being kids, they just make it into a fun thing as you can see!

Step 31: Gallery

Step 32: Thanks!

Thanks for reading this far. Hope it's an enjoyable if long read on the honest highs and lows of the process of being given a creative brief by a client and 'trusting the creative/design process' to yield something beyond the initial brief.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I hope young designers/creatives see from this is that you don't need to have ALL the answers a the very start to have a good outcome, but it takes confidence to pitch something knowingly half-complete, and trust that it will come together with time.

Incorporating a bit of 'uncertainty' into your work, be it personal projects or like this is often what makes them memorable. I hope the TEDx talk is also a useful reference on this.

Do keep in touch:

Step 33: Top Hat Appendix / Miscellany

Jamiroquai's Virtual Insanity. I was thinking about this whilst writing this up, because of Jay K's amazing Top Hat. And happened to re-watch the video on the making of the video, which has a nice 'trust the process' story to it!

Another fun thing was hearing that apparently Brunel had a collection of mini books inside his Top Hat! - read to the end.

And of course I should make an effort an do a homage to Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka pose at some point!

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