Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Superior Shelter From the Storm

Days after Hurricane Katrina, Michael McDaniel was grabbing a cup of coffee. Pondering how to build a better shelter for the countless displaced citizens, he had an idea: why not make a shelter that could be stacked and assembled like a coffee cup? Several years later, the Exo shelter was born.

Exo is actually like an inverted coffee cup, where the “cup” is the roof and walls and the lid is the floor. The cups can stack super efficiently: 20 on a truck bed; compare that to two trailers or one shipping container home. The lightweight structure can be lifted by four people and set up in less than two minutes.


The only type of shelter that can match its portability is a tent. Unlike tents, the Exo is constructed with aircraft-grade aluminum and insulated composite panels, which gives it the durability and weather-resistance to make it both reusable and reasonably comfortable. The Exo is lockable, a critical feature where safety is an issue. And it is set up to accept electric, heat, air conditioning and online connectivity.

Perhaps most important for the NGOs who are the Exo’s most probable customer, the $5000 shelters are 1/4 the cost of a FEMA trailer and 1/3 the cost of modified shipping containers.


And please forgive us if this sounds a bit shallow, but we imagine the Exo could be a pretty cool vacation dwelling–like a tent you can climate control and leave up year round.

Exo’s is ramping up production through a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. They have already surpassed a $50K goal by $20K, but we’re sure extra contributions are welcome. Find more info on their campaign page.

  • Yvonne

    I donated toward this great idea. Time is running out, so check it out.

  • Jeff Parker

    I want one.

  • omordah

    I’m sorry but it reminds me of a prison cell. Yes, for immediate relief after a disaster it is a great idea to shelter many people, but is no long term answer.

  • Gungagalunga

    It is an interesting idea, but it has a long, long way to go. Here, very quickly, are some issues Mr. McDaniel will need to overcome before the humanitarian community will treat Exo seriously.

    1. At $5,000 a pop, it is cost prohibitive in most of the world. In the Philippines, which he cites, Exos for the internally displaced persons (IDPs) would cost hundreds of millions of dollars (plus shipping). To make it practical, the cost would need to come down to by a factor of 10 or more. Moreover, the cost of an Exo far exceeds the annual income in most of the world. Instead of an Exo, imagine the IDPs could choose $5k in cash (over 10x the average annual income in the Philippines). Cash assistance has proven to be a quite effective and expedient approach to disaster response.

    2. Mr. McDaniel also cites the Hurricane Katrina response. By any measure, the FEMA trailers were a horrible idea. That’s what happens when non-disaster professionals are allowed to let political decisions shape a response. Thanks a lot, Brownie. However, had Exos been used to keep the affected population living in NO for the first months after the storm, just like with the FEMA trailers, they would be living in high heat, in dangerous areas, and without basic public services such as power, water, and sewer. On the other hand, if Brownie had listened to his shelter experts instead of the Manufactured Housing Association, he would have opted to use the over 1 million available apartments within 2 hour’s drive of New Orleans to house the displaced for the first 6 months, which would have cost much less than the trailers.

    3. There are international standards for disaster response that have been agreed to by the humanitarian community called “SPHERE Standards”. They are intended to insure the quality of disaster assistance and preserve the dignity of the beneficiaries. The SPHERE minimum for emergency shelter space is 3.5 sq mtrs per person. For four people, that comes to 14 sq mtrs. The video says Exo is 80 sq ft. That’s only 7.43 sq mtrs–less than half of the accepted minimum. For that reason alone, there is no reputable humanitarian organization that would use Exos and no donor government that would fund them.

    There are other issues, but I’ll stop there. Thank you for reading this far. Later versions of Exo may find ways to overcome these problems. I hope so. One problem I would encourage Mr. McDaniel to look at is that of transitional shelter, that is, post-disaster response shelter into which people may live for a year or two on their original home site while they construct permanent shelter. This is particularly challenging in an urban environment.

    Good luck.