An aerostat communication system to empower community members and aid first responders in natural disaster relief


Illumiloon is a signaling device that disaster victims inflate and attach to their homes when other communication systems fail.  Users fit their Illumiloons with colored bands that indicate specific needs (i.e. food, water, medical attention), creating a floating network without power or Internet. This impacts the local community by enabling those who have certain resources to share them with their neighbors.  Illumiloon also helps official first responders to seamlessly identify and address individual and group needs.

When a natural disaster is forecast, Illumiloon kits are distributed to every household in a community. These kits are simple to use and include pictorial instructions.  After the natural disaster occurs, each household inflates a balloon by pressing a button on a pre-attached gas-release mechanism, filling the balloon with buoyant helium.  Users then attach one or more colored bands around the balloon, with each color corresponding to a critical need. Using three tethers and stakes, the users secure the Illumiloon to their property.  With its LED band, the aerostat is bright and visible at all hours.  If a home has not deployed an Illumiloon, it immediately indicates to both community members and first responders that there is a problem. This system helps responders organize and prioritize.  Illumiloon brings light to disaster zones.


Team Illumiloon formed in Fall of 2013.  As Yale Undergraduate students from different disciplines, we met through a group on campus called 'Design For America,' which creates teams to address community problems through a human-centered design process. 

Many members of our community were affected by Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Sandy, and Superstorm Nemo. Electricity outages, limited access to food and water, and property damage posed significant problems to the community. People often struggled to find help and supplies despite the efforts of local governments and the availability of food and medical donations. Distribution was made difficult without the typical avenues of communication.  To improve post-disaster communication, we propose the implementation of Illumiloon.

Our design was inspired by multiple interviews with New Haven disaster relief professionals, including members of the local Red Cross, the Yale-New Haven Disaster Response Center, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Innovation Office.  Our team identified communication breakdowns as a common challenge in disaster zones. Thus, we collaborated to develop a low-tech, visual tool to connect those who can provide help with those who need it.


Kamya Jagadish is a senior at Yale studying Environmental Engineering.

Jane Smyth is a senior at Yale studying Geology and Geophysics.

Edward Wang is a senior at Yale studying Architecture.