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step, in the name of…the…environment… August 21, 2007

Posted by KG in environment, science, tech.
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crowdfarm.jpg

from inhabitat:

How many people does it take to launch the space shuttle? The answer is 84,162,203, all of them taking a single step in a Crowd Farming system developed by MIT students James Graham and Thaddeus Jusczyk. Together, they have proposed the creation of a people powered power plant (an idea similar to human-powered gyms, and sustainable dance clubs), in which people would be generating energy by simple act of walking and moving around.

The Crowd Farm works by turning mechanical energy into electricity. In this proposal, the weight of a person is translated to tiled blocks which be slightly pressed down as people walk past them. A generator embedded inside them would take that small vertical movement and translate it into energy. To prove that their concept works, they created a small stool which when sat on, would power four small LED lights inside it.

Their proposal won first place in a competition held at the Holcim Forum 2007, which focused on the theme of urban competition. Their proposal for the competition involved modelling a train station in Torino, Italy. In it, they succesfully showed the feasibility of their proposal to power large spaces by the movement of large amounts of people. This particular proposal also showed that this system could be used in large events, such as a concert. As more people arrive to the concert, more energy is available to pump out the sound from the speakers. Granted this technology is still years away from being feasible, but some day in the future, that one small step for man, could have been powered by 84 million of us.

the msnbc article goes into more depth:

James Graham and Thaddeus Jusczyk, graduate students at MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning in Cambridge, Mass., said they envision their Crowd Farm more as a learning tool than an efficient energy source, at least in the near future. Even so, the idea builds upon the emerging consensus that power generation in the coming decades will need to rely on sustainable resources, whether water, wind, the sun or our own bodies.

The students’ proposal follows a long line of ideas in which human energy powers everything from bicycle lights to hand-crank radios. Researchers also have developed a variety of devices and surfaces, composed mainly of crystals or ceramics, that produce an electric charge when put under stress, a concept known as piezoelectricity.

The students took their concept a few steps farther with a project that re-imagines a transportation hub and public space within the Italian city of Torino in the year 2050, where portions of an event area, athletic field and regional train and subway platforms are imbued with pressure-responsive units. High-volume sections of the flooring or stairs could be overlaid with special mats to capture the energy of a crowd, Graham said, or key areas could be embedded with variously sized electricity-generating boxes in the sub-flooring.

even though this is many years away, the realization of this kind of energy creation on a mass-scale seems possible in our lifetimes – and the myriad applications seem like it would open the door to all kinds of interesting uses.

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