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Latest "Green" Power Generation — Your Feet

timothy posted more than 6 years ago | from the my-feet-could-power-gas-generators dept.

Power 189

gbjbaanb writes "Remember those ideas that suggested hooking gym machines to the power grid? Well, the Times is reporting that something like this to harness free energy is about to become a reality — the footfall of trudging shoppers is to become the latest source of emission-free energy. 'Engineers who have modelled the effects of the technology at Victoria Underground station in central London have calculated that the 34,000 travellers passing through every hour could power 6,500 lightbulbs. ... The plans for heel-strike generation follow successful trials last year at a bridge in the Midlands where generators converted energy from trains passing above into electricity powering a flood detector.' Possibly the most important thing for the readership is at the end: 'There could also be a range of domestic uses, for example powering iPods by plugging them into batteries placed in the owners' heels, using technology which is already available.' Obviously you'd have to get up and walk around, but, as they say, it's the thought that counts."

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There is no free lunch (5, Insightful)

Omniscious (1260360) | more than 6 years ago | (#23701763)

As well as no free energy.

Re:There is no free lunch (4, Insightful)

dougmc (70836) | more than 6 years ago | (#23701799)

Energy from the sun is approximately free, especially when you put your solar panels on top of building and such rather than in fields ... but I digress. (I said approximately -- the solar panels are not free, and neither are any other components or their maintenance.)


But as for free energy -- this is not it. By putting generators in the ground that are moved by people walking on them, it will make it harder to walk. I don't know the specifics, but I'm guessing that parts of the floor will move up and down a little as people walk on it, probably a few milimeters. It might be somewhat akin to walking on sand -- and I have to wonder what it would do to a wheelchair.

This might be practical if you're in a remote location where electrical power is unavailable and you only need a little -- but beyond that, the solution seems worse than the problem. (And really, solar power is more practical for remote areas where you need only a little power.)

Re:There is no free lunch (5, Informative)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 6 years ago | (#23701969)

by people walking on them, it will make it harder to walk

I remember some adverts for training shoes that had fluid capsules inside them to reduce stresses on your joints (or something, probably just marketing). People bought them but didn't complain they were difficult to walk in. If the generation systems are of the same order, then I can't see a problem.

I imagine it would cost a fair bit to install, but there's paths everywhere, whereas solar panels have a limited amount of area they can be installed on. Also, these wouldn't require the noxious chemicals solar panels are made of, and wouldn't require as much maintenance (I think).

For other areas, I thought bridges etc had to have soem 'squidginess' to them, or the traffic riding on them would quickly shake it to bits. As the article said, this principle also applies to antennas that wave in the wind, so its not just going to be used in every pavement in the world.

Re:There is no free lunch (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23702197)

I remember some adverts for training shoes that had fluid capsules inside them to reduce stresses on your joints (or something, probably just marketing). People bought them but didn't complain they were difficult to walk in. If the generation systems are of the same order, then I can't see a problem.

Different mechanism, the foot is cushioned but the shoe still exerts the same force on the floor. However, if the floor is "squishier" than normal it will be like walking in sand, which is tiring no matter what show you're wearing as the entire shoe is meeting less resistance.

Re:There is no free lunch (4, Informative)

smaddox (928261) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702267)

Also, these wouldn't require the noxious chemicals solar panels are made of, and wouldn't require as much maintenance (I think).
Noxious chemicals?

Silicon, and trace amounts of boron and phosphorous are noxious? You need to go back to chemistry class. Not only is silicon one of the most abundant elements on earth, it is one of the least harmful to humans.

Also, solar cells don't really require maintenance. You would want to clean them occasionally to get optimal power, but that involves spraying them off with a hose. That is the beauty of photovoltaics - there are no moving parts to break.

Re:There is no free lunch (3, Informative)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702537)

Me? You're the one that needs to go back to eco-warrior class.

IIRC it was cadmium used in the manufacture that made solar cells not as green as they could be.


A quick google says
However there are many environmentalists and some scientists that are worried about the potential negative impact of solar cells (photovoltaic technology). This is because manufacturing process of photovoltaic cells needs toxic metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium

Still, I think its better than coal-fired power, but don't think any green energy generation is the perfect answer to all problems.

Re:There is no free lunch (2, Informative)

Tweenk (1274968) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702559)

Commercial PV cells are not made of doped silicon as you seem to presume. They are made of cadmium telluride. This thing IS noxious: Wikipedia is your friend. [wikipedia.org] Silicon cells are only used in laboratories, because for now they are much more expensive.

Additionally, silicon is abundant on Earth, but it doesn't mean it's cheap. Obtaining semiconductor grade silicon from sand or silicates is not a trivial process, and this is why it's still very expensive despite its broad usage.

Re:There is no free lunch (3, Informative)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702271)

I remember some adverts for training shoes that had fluid capsules inside them to reduce stresses on your joints (or something, probably just marketing). People bought them but didn't complain they were difficult to walk in. If the generation systems are of the same order, then I can't see a problem.
I read an article (I can't find it, but I'm sure someone will pull it up) where they discussed the issues around cushioning in shoes.

What they found is that your body is used to a certain 'feel' from the ground when you walk. It turns out that more cushioning = more stress on your joints, because your body notices the lack of pressure & compensates with harder heel strikes.

The article tied all this into walking barefoot and some shoes that were about as close to walking barefoot as you can get.

Anyways, the moral of the story is that you do work harder with cushioned shoes and they're not good for the health of your feet & lower joints.

Re:There is no free lunch (3, Interesting)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702599)

W=f*d

In the case of the shoes, work done compressing the cushion approximately come back on the up-stroke. It's fairly conservative (in the physics sense). You'll find that if the shoes had tiny holes in the cushions, it'd be quite a bit harder to walk in them, especially if they had a lot of vertical play. The difference between a spring and a shock absorber.

Re:There is no free lunch (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23702001)

But as for free energy -- this is not it. By putting generators in the ground that are moved by people walking on them, it will make it harder to walk. I don't know the specifics, but I'm guessing that parts of the floor will move up and down a little as people walk on it, probably a few milimeters. It might be somewhat akin to walking on sand -- and I have to wonder what it would do to a wheelchair.

It shouldn't make it harder to walk at all; at least not noticeably. If piezoelectrics are used, the total deflection would be hundredths of of a millimeter, perhaps less.

freeking obesity epidemic (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23702125)

Most western and industrialized nations people need all the extra exercise they can get. (I said most, not all, some people actually stay in shape, most do not, go ahead, look around you) I think the artificial urban power sucking islands could use around a few million of these generators, help to walk off some of that lard and get some practical benefit from it. I already see those ridiculous belching buses that they praise as mass transit stopping every couple hundred of feet. Egads people can't even walk beyond that? Then they go sit on their asses all day long at some office. Jeebus, how wuss can you get? "OMG it feels like walking on sand! I might get the swooning vapors!"

Re:freeking obesity epidemic (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702721)

I already see those ridiculous belching buses that they praise as mass transit stopping every couple hundred of feet. Egads people can't even walk beyond that?
Of course they could. But I find the ability to take small trips one of the big advantages of public transportation (got a monthly card so doesn't cost anything extra). Take a few stops from work, go for a walk in the park (much nicer than sidewalks). Take a few more stops, go to a store. Take a few more stops, visit a store in the other end of the city center. Take another few stops and meet some friends at a pub. Not to mention, drink a few beers and take it all the way home. Car user? Well, there's parking and traffic jams and you'll have to walk from whereever you got parking. Why take away one of the really good parts of public transportation?

Re:There is no free lunch (1)

retiredtwice (1128097) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702239)

You are quite right in that it has to be a bit harder to walk. However, we probably all could use more exercise and if it is not too intrusive or difficult, it might be beneficial in the long run.

But without knowing exactly what the parameters are, it is difficult to determine the amount of extra effort. Foam inserts absorb energy, convert it to heat, and make walking more difficult too but those of us with flat feet (like me) would rather have the cushion than perfect efficiency.

It mentions "heel strike" energy so it might not be too bad for wheeled "things" (like wheelchairs).

Most of us dont walk efficiently anyway.

Re:There is no free lunch (2, Interesting)

ma1wrbu5tr (1066262) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702391)

Victoria Underground station in central London


Um... in this case, I don't think sunshine is something you can count on. This is true of many places.

In the United Kingdom the frequency of rain [wikipedia.org] driven into the
country by the south-western trade winds following the warm gulfstream
currents. Areas along the western coasts can receive between 1016 mm
(40 inches, at sea-level) and 2540 mm (100 inches, on the mountains) of
rain per year.

I live in the middle of a temperate rainforest right here in Washington state. Solar panels simply would not work very efficiently here either.

Now, if someone wants to put some turbines in my downspouts, I think we've got a plan. But if I buy them, I expect a yearly gutter cleaning to be part of my contract. ;)

But I digress too, to your point. This seems like it would be a maintenance nightmare. And is probably the worst of the parasitic power ideas I've heard to date.

Re:There is no free lunch (1)

Tweenk (1274968) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702433)

Energy from the sun is approximately free, especially when you put your solar panels on top of building and such
Cost of solar panels is not zero. They may provide energy return on investment after a few years, but so do all other commercial power sources. I side with GP poster on this one.

I think that while "footfall energy" is very pointless when you want to provide additional power in the subways (it simply won't make any difference, because the trains consume orders of magnitude more energy than the passengers can generate), but it can be extremely useful to power personal mobile appliances like multimedia players and PDAs. A personal generator like this one [latimes.com] could even replace wall chargers altogether. I think this is a nontrivial issue, because most people leave them plugged in all the time, silently wasting electricity day and night.

Re:There is no free lunch (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23702447)

I imagine it wouldn't be that much of an inconvenience. Floors might be designed differently from the usual hard surfaced floors. Perhaps using a softer surface. If you notice, whenever you walk on carpet the force of you standing on it pushes the carpet down a little, hardly a problem for accessibility. The only difference would be that instead of all of your energy from stepping being transferred to the hard surface below the carpet, some of it will be used to push water through a turbine.

Re:There is no free lunch (1)

SleepingWaterBear (1152169) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702765)

Actually, in this case maybe you can get a free lunch. Most of the energy you use to walk is more or less wasted. How much is wasted depends on a range of factors, though the type of surface you walk on is probably one of the biggest. Walking on sand uses tons of energy, walking on concrete is better, and walking on one of those rubbery surfaces they use for some moving walkways in airports is a lot better.

There's no reason in principle that you can't make a surface which is easier to walk on than concrete and also extracts some of the energy of the motion.

The real question is if the cost of the new surface is less than the value of the energy you get, and presumably, in this case it is

Re:There is no free lunch (2, Insightful)

ookabooka (731013) | more than 6 years ago | (#23701809)

Yeah, I guess the idea is to take the energy that would normally be dissipated as heat/friction and harness that. I'm still wondering if the cost of this technology makes it worth it or not. 6,500 lightbulbs may sound like a lot but if it costs millions...Also if the floor is springy it would be a chore to walk on; that could get really annoying.

Re:There is no free lunch (2, Insightful)

Hojima (1228978) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702265)

You can't refine energy that is dissipated as heat when it's at that level. It's mechanical energy that they use. What would be better is just a gym which uses the mechanical energy of a workout. Have bicycles that spin turbines, weight machines use the kinetic energy that power lifters exert, stair machines with similar principles etc. It wouldn't be a difficult design. With all the huge bastards at my gym, we'd be pumping out a lot of watts.

Re:There is no free lunch (3, Insightful)

flyingsquid (813711) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702351)

6,500 lightbulbs may sound like a lot but if it costs millions...

6500 light bulbs isn't all that much. Let's be generous and say that each bulb is a high-powered, inefficient 100-watt incandescent bulbs. 6500 bulbs x 100 watts = 650,000 watts, or .65 megawatts. To put things in perspective, a coal or nuclear plant might put out 500-1500 megawatts of power (according to various Wikipedia pages). Obviously, the power output is going to be a lot lower if they're talking about 15 watt compact fluorescent bulbs, however; that'd be about 100 kilowatts of power. That's a respectable amount of power, but you've got to ask (1) how expensive is it going to be, (2) how widely applicable is this model going to be, and (3) how reliable is this power source? Presumably foot traffic is going to decline substantially at night, and perhaps on weekends and major holidays, so the average power generation will be much lower than peak power generation.

I thought this article http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=90714692 [npr.org] provided a much more practical take on the problem. Apparently, factories, mills and refineries which generate high temperature exhaust can use that exhaust to generate power. A major difficulty here is legislative, not technological; if you install the machinery to generate power from the heat produced by a steel furnace, laws designed to protect utilities mean that it's often difficult to sell it.

That being said, I don't think that recycling waste heat, or any other single technology will solve our energy problems. We need a whole suite of technologies- the ability to drill for deeper oil deposits, more cost-effective mining of tar sands and oil shales, more efficient cars, solar, wind, and more efficient houses, cars, and light bulbs- to increase our supply and reduce our demand.

Re:There is no free lunch (3, Interesting)

evanbd (210358) | more than 6 years ago | (#23701833)

Exactly. This article completely ignores the most interesting question -- is it cheaper or more expensive than other zero-emissions sources of energy, like solar? In some specialized applications, human power is nice. But in a supermarket or train station, power is readily available, and this should be compared on even footing in terms of $ per watt of generation capability against other options. Somehow I doubt it beats out solar power. Sure, it may be (*) cleaner than fossil fuels, but what's the point if it costs more than solar?

* Depends whether you count the marginal fossil fuel cost of food calories, which are a very expensive form of energy by the time they reach your plate. There are reasonable arguments both ways.

Re:There is no free lunch (4, Funny)

Escogido (884359) | more than 6 years ago | (#23701881)

this should be compared on even footing in terms of $ per watt of generation capability
I think that if this energy source is compared on even footing with other ones, it wins hands, err, feet down.

Re:There is no free lunch (1)

moreati (119629) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702171)

I expect it will stamp out the competition.

Re:There is no free lunch (1)

GXTi (635121) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702243)

No no no... I'm putting my foot down. No pedestrian pun threads on slashdot!

Re:There is no free lunch (1)

moreati (119629) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702471)

It was too tempting, I just had to run with it.

Re:There is no free lunch (1)

Andrew Kismet (955764) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702759)

This thread is using too many puns in one place, Slashdot needs to learn to pace itself.

Re:There is no free lunch (1)

virgil_disgr4ce (909068) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702501)

Unfortunately for everyone, my feet are NOT emission-free sources of energy.

Mod Parent Up (1)

RealityThreek (534082) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702151)

Insightful post on the true question of energy generation. There's already enough renewable energy sources available now and at a lower cost. The costs of "foot-powered" electricity don't scale well and only provide power during "peak traffic" times in highly congested locations..

Re:There is no free lunch (4, Insightful)

FinchWorld (845331) | more than 6 years ago | (#23701843)

As well as no free energy.

There is however an amass of energy out there going to waste.

Re:There is no free lunch (4, Funny)

BPPG (1181851) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702005)

As well as no free energy.
Apparently somebody was paying attention in Grade 10 chemistry.

Re:There is no free lunch (1)

gangien (151940) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702383)

Apparently somebody was paying attention in Grade 10 chemistry.

where's the -1 Canadian mod?

(i'm joking!)

but there is easy energy (2, Interesting)

thermian (1267986) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702211)

My son's pc is on an old Singer Sewing Table, complete with the forged Iron foot pump affair that used to run the sewing machine.

At the moment all he does is operate the flywheel while he plays (a little noisy, but better for his legs then just sitting static for ages). I want to set it up with a generator so we can use it to power something, or store the charge in a battery.

Not perhaps the most efficient means of power generation, but a teensy bit cool.

Re:but there is easy energy (1)

hkmarks (1080097) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702493)

Your son is very lucky. When I was a kid, no one would let me touch our sewing table. I should have told them it was good exercise, but these were the days before NES so I doubt they would have cared.

Re:There is no free lunch (1)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702609)

Anything decent needs investment. Sure solar panels, for instance, aren't free but as long as the sun is around they'll generate energy and the return will be greater than the initial outlay.

Re:There is no free lunch (1)

v1 (525388) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702665)

why don't people "get it"? if you attach a generator of any kind to anything it will cause drag on whatever it's attached to, which is why it's able to produce energy.

If you attach a generator to your shoes, you will get power, and will get more tiring walk.

As far as walking goes, it's a pendulum-like motion that's highly efficient, and if you try to tap into that you're not going to like how tiring that walk to the grocery store gets.

This is old technology (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23701765)

They have been using this with cattle to pump water for some time now.

Waste of resources (4, Insightful)

jafiwam (310805) | more than 6 years ago | (#23701775)

Humans can't power much continuously. At full tilt on an efficient machine a PRO biker can light a 100 watt bulb. The average luser working out, not worth the bother.

All the equipment, moving parts, maintained, used to capture human power won't reach the point of break even on any of this stuff. (If you pay your maintenance guy at least.)

They'd be better off CLOSING the stinking gyms and making people work out outside and not DRIVE there than capturing that power.

Green is not complicated, often, it is SIMPLE.

Re:Waste of resources (2, Interesting)

kickmyassman (1199237) | more than 6 years ago | (#23701901)

Yes, hence why they're using footfalls in subway lines instead of gyms. The gym analogy was just meant as to describe the "humans produce a lot of wasted energy, why don't we harvest some?" sentiment.

Re:Waste of resources (4, Informative)

dougmc (70836) | more than 6 years ago | (#23701913)

I may agree that extracting energy from humans like this isn't practical, but your figures are wrong.


A world-class bike sprinter can put out 1500-2000 watts for a short period of time, perhaps a minute or so [wikipedia.org] . Lance Armstrong can put out about 500 watts for 30 minutes or so [pezcyclingnews.com] , and a somewhat lesser amount for many hours.

I'm a pretty weak pedaler, but I can put out about 100 watts for an hour or so without too much trouble.

Re:Waste of resources (1)

rale, the (659351) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702539)

There's a significant loss in the efficiency of the conversion to electricity. You only get about 25-35% of the power you're outputting after conversion, so you'd have to put out 300-400 watts sustained to keep that 100 watt bulb going.

Re:Waste of resources (1)

tknd (979052) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702775)

My celeron based eee 900 requires about 15 watts to idle with the screen still on. Perhaps we could put generators with pedals under everyone's cubicle desk and have them power their own computers? Not only would we be green, but we'd also solve America's obesity problem!

Re:Waste of resources (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23702061)

"not worth the bother." You mean like oil? I mean, a drop of oil can hardly power anything, thus why waste our time trying to power stuff with it?

Re:Waste of resources, wated post (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23702453)

Wow, you didnt even read through the summary, let alone rtfa....

Re:Waste of resources (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23702499)

That's incorrect. I cycle 20 miles a day on a pretty awful bike and I can put out quite a lot of power continously.

Re:Waste of resources (1)

IhuntCIA (1099827) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702619)

>All the equipment, moving parts, maintained, used to capture human power won't reach the point of break even on any of this stuff.
I cant agree more. I bet piezo effect [wikipedia.org] could harness power cheaper and more efficient than

pads underneath, driving fluid through mini-turbines that then generate electricity
It sounds complicated, mini-turbines can't be very efficient, there is going to be a lot of fluid, vents and pipes, lot of friction.
Piezo effect can be used to create high AC voltage [wikipedia.org] needed for CFLs. There You go, floor tiles can power CFL's (almost) directly.
The fabrication of piezo electric floor elements can be cheap, natural materials can be used that look like and behave like ordinary floor materials They would be simpler to recycle than mini-turbines and a lot easier to replace. There is really no need complicated system, but engineers, British engineers ...

Geek cyclists need power for GPS now (1)

SpzToid (869795) | more than 6 years ago | (#23701777)

The Nokia n95 GPS with voice guided navigation, wireless via bluetooth headphones, that calmly lowers the MP3 volume ...well that GPS is great for getting me out on my bicycle, and off into unexplored territories. I just love it. Except when it dies because it sucks too much juice, which is most of the time. (so I have learned to carry spares)

Hey, it is great to be using the GPS/MP3/bluetooth/GSm functions, but I shut them all down to save energy for priority GPS tracking using the Sports Tracker web service, on known courses: Nokia SportsTracker Web Services [nokia.com] . But even that lone power-misered GPS application died after a handful of hours when I really wanted data from a special ride recently!

I understand power is the main drawback to cycling GPS units; this technology can't come into place fast enough IMHO. Google maps and GPS is enough to get me out moving fast when the weather is good. That presents a real challenge to GPS power usage for cycling use. Having to stop and re-orient according to paper maps suckz, so I stick with known cycling routes when I get time to ride.

Re:Geek cyclists need power for GPS now (1)

Yetihehe (971185) | more than 6 years ago | (#23701933)

.well that GPS is great for getting me out on my bicycle, and off into unexplored territories. I just love it. Except when it dies because it sucks too much juice, which is most of the time. (so I have learned to carry spares)
I love it too. But I just have Dell X5 palmtop, and 3400mAh battery, it works approximately 6-7 hours this way.
*guitar riff* *guitar riff* *(Ding! Turn left in 300m)*

Re:Geek cyclists need power for GPS now (1)

SpzToid (869795) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702021)

a 3400mAh battery?! Dude, that's like 3.5x what the 1st gen. Nokia bundles.

I can see this becoming a competitive, and potentially marketable arms-race... As the [insert your favorite sport-like-cycling here] rules are changed so that no larger batteries are allowed, and all energy net-carbon values derive from the cyclists themselves. SO, if the cyclists deem it necessary to pack along a Cray-in-a-pocket(tm), that's fine so long as they can power it the distance as well. And of course, no dumping of the Cray along the course should the batteries fail.

Re:Geek cyclists need power for GPS now (1)

Yetihehe (971185) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702181)

It would be actually cool if some dynamo with charging capabilities existed. Just like cross between bicycle dynamo and sidewinder phone charger [americansurvivalgear.com] .

First footfall. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23701795)

First footfall.

Not green energy (5, Funny)

BradMajors (995624) | more than 6 years ago | (#23701801)

Using humans to generate electricity is not a green source. Humans generate methane, a green house gas, from their fuel (food).

Re:Not green energy (5, Funny)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 6 years ago | (#23701837)

Using humans to generate electricity is not a green source

yeah, we should ban humans and all the world's energy problems would be over.

Re:Not green energy (1, Insightful)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702063)

yeah, we should ban humans and all the world's energy problems would be over

Post was modded "Funny", but it's actually true. Wish there was a +1 "Ironic". I would hazard a guess that most of the World's problems wouldn't exist w/o people...

Re:Not green energy (1)

Negatyfus (602326) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702403)

You forget that all of these "world problems" you speak about are only problems to us "humans"...

Re:Not green energy (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702463)

all of these "world problems" you speak about are only problems to us "humans"

Of course. People talk about "saving the planet", but whatever horror we do, the planet itself will (eventually) be fine. We, on the other hand...

Our Sun will be around for a few more billion years. Plenty of time for life on the planet to start over again.

Re:Not green energy (1)

Wavebreak (1256876) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702621)

Clearly what we need is catalytic converters for people. Now to get that image out of my head.

Hello? CO2, hello? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23702667)

Humans exhale CO2. We have to replace our fuel. Our food is trucked / shipped in from around the world. I've heard walking to the store produces an equivalent amount of green house gases as driving a car.

success to-date sounds limited (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23701821)

successful trials last year at a bridge in the Midlands where generators converted energy from trains passing above into electricity powering a flood detector.

Hmm, that sounds like a rather small return from an enormous amount of momentum.

Re:success to-date sounds limited (3, Interesting)

mikael (484) | more than 6 years ago | (#23701865)

I would think that piezo-electric mats that absorb sound would create more energy while at the same time reducing the amount of noise would be more practical than collecting potential energy from passing trains.

Re:success to-date sounds limited (1)

kickmyassman (1199237) | more than 6 years ago | (#23701945)

I guess the question comes down to the cost of producing enough piezo-electric mats to actually help dull the sound in addition to the amount of energy harvested from their current method.

Does anyone know how exactly they currently get the energy for the aforementioned flood-detector?

Re:success to-date sounds limited (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23702071)

That would never work. a) piezo-electric crystals are relatively expensive. b) There's very little energy in sound - our ears are very sensitive. c) piezo-electric crystals have a different acoustic impedance to air, the sound would just reflect off them.

In fact that's almost as stupid an idea as putting wind turbines in the underground to make energy from the rushes of air that trains make! Someone actually suggested that seriously!

Re:success to-date sounds limited (1)

evanbd (210358) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702301)

You would be wrong. There's just not much energy in sound. A 100W sound system is quite loud -- and the speakers are only a few percent efficient. A few watts of sound is *very* loud; the energy available from covering the walls of a normal room is a couple watts at best, before you count inefficiencies.

Dunno about this... (1)

religious freak (1005821) | more than 6 years ago | (#23701827)

How much, in terms of emissions, did this "emission free" device require when it was built? Perhaps more than 6,500 light bulbs worth of pollution?

Re:Dunno about this... (1)

kickmyassman (1199237) | more than 6 years ago | (#23701893)

Probably much more, but the idea is that if it lasts for any period of time, it will hopefully provide enough energy for 6,500 light bulbs * however many years it remains up and running

who writes these articles? (5, Funny)

brunokummel (664267) | more than 6 years ago | (#23701931)

...Obviously you'd have to get up and walk around, but, as they say, it's the thought that counts."

GREAT ! If it's the thought that counts why do I have to get up and walk around??..I could only imagine that I'm walking around and watch those batteries juice up....

Emission free? (5, Funny)

BobNET (119675) | more than 6 years ago | (#23701971)

I'm pretty sure my feet are producing harmful emissions right now...

Re:Emission free? (0, Redundant)

antdude (79039) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702637)

Especially if your name is Al Bundy [marriedwithchildren.com] . Can we use our butt gas/fart too?

Hmm, it's getting dark in here. (1)

Have Blue (616) | more than 6 years ago | (#23701985)

Five minute break, everyone. Do a few laps around the office.

Wish they revealed some details... (1)

kickmyassman (1199237) | more than 6 years ago | (#23701991)

This seems like a really awesome idea! I just wish they had provided some more details about the actual underlying technology. Is this something like a miniaturized version of the cow-generator we saw forever ago? Or is it just a tiny generator with an insanely strong spring and a high gearing ratio, designed to provide about as much resistance as you'd expect from a solid object?

Cool toy, but... (4, Interesting)

RyanFenton (230700) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702017)

This sounds as practical as trying to harness the 'incredible power' of our stomach acid for energy generation. I'm sure we could power a lot of lightbulbs in a lot of ways - but I think there are better options than relying on extracted energy from human movement. It's like relying on whale and pig fat as a major power source - it just doesn't scale past a small market segment.

What we want is to use something more scalable, like algae-based oils [wikipedia.org] , using arid and other unfarmable land, and not using fresh water sources for production. That, plus increases in solar power efficiency are much more direct ways of gathering usable energy, which could scale far beyond our current needs in a sustainable way. That way, we raise the standard of living of people by increasing energy production, rather than make them stick battery chargers on their feet.

Ultimately, food and fresh water will be bigger concerns going forward - and I don't think we'll be able to grow sustainable crops in our shoes with any toys either.

Ryan Fenton

Re:Cool toy, but... (4, Interesting)

rocketPack (1255456) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702305)

Exactly. Why would we want to rely on an unpredictable, complicated solution to generate a small amount of electricity when we could be harnessing lots of other sources which are much more reliable, scalable, simple, and cheap!

What about using EM induction to slow down trains? How much electricity could a freight train generate if it stopped using a "third rail" and some magnets beginning a few miles out of town (when it'll already begin slowing down). The savings in mech braking wear and tear, the usefulness of the quantity of electricity generated, the predictability, reliability, simplicity, and cost of such a system make this idea seem so much better than trying to harness the power of "walking."

But we're not into "useful tech", we want something "clever" sounding and "outside of the box" - even if it's really useless and a waste of resources that could equivocally produce a superior, albeit "boring" and "obvious" solution.

This green revolution made so much more sense when it didn't have the all the hype. Bring back the old timers!

Re:Cool toy, but... (2, Insightful)

RyanFenton (230700) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702513)

This green revolution made so much more sense when it didn't have the all the hype. Bring back the old timers!


Well, that depends on how you define the Green Revolution [wikipedia.org] . I prefer to define it in terms of agriculture and human production standards. In terms of the work of Norman Borlaug [wikipedia.org] and other scientists' contribution, rather than as a way to dismiss folks as leftist, which these folks in particular are not. That work has likely saved the lives of more people than almost any other act in human history.

That said, there's a lot to be said for currently 'leftist' ideas like biodiversity, climate change, and such - but none of those are as much a critical bottleneck to saving lives from suffering and death as the core ideas of food and energy production. It's very much correct to worry if these processes are removing quality and sustainability to life too, over the longer term - but the core issues with the green revolution are far closer to the 'old timers' than the hippies you may associate the words with.

Ryan Fenton

Re:Cool toy, but... (0, Redundant)

Dpaladin (890625) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702407)

Yeah, it seems kind of worthless to me... I like how lightbulbs are always the unit of measurement for things like these. Lightbulbs use very little energy. This is what, ~650 kilowatts per day (assuming they're 100 watt bulbs)? That doesn't seem like a whole lot. I mean, it's "free" energy, but I'm pretty sure a solar grid would do a better job. Of course, if it were about efficient energy rather than clean energy, we'd have more nuclear power plants.
 
But hey, I'm no scientist.

Re:Cool toy, but... (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702703)

Nuclear energy IS clean energy. You're pouring water over hot metal to generate steam, and you do it in a closed loop. It doesn't get much cleaner than that.

My feet are always green energy (1, Flamebait)

LM741N (258038) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702081)

Thats because I made a conscious choice to live in the city. I can walk to almost anywhere I need to, and on those rare occasions that I can't, there is always the bus. Plus I get the additional benefit of lowered chance of cardiovascular disease and others so I'm not going to weigh down the health system like the lazy people out in the suburbs. They drive everywhere with their gigantic SUV's, polluting the environment and turning into big lumps of fat.

Re:My feet are always green energy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23702111)

You also get the additional penalty of increased rates of asthma and living in a place with higher levels of air pollution.

Re:My feet are always green energy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23702203)

I, for one, prefer to save $400 a month or so by living out some distance from the city (bonus points: actual backyard, grass, trees, quiet!), and use a cute little 25-MPGish VW Rabbit to drive to work. Your holier-than-thou attitude is cute, though.

Maybe the tap-dancing grifter (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702093)

can now get a job working to keep the train stations power bill down.

Everybody Dance Now... (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702105)

powering iPods by plugging them into batteries placed in the owners' heels, ... Obviously you'd have to get up and walk around.

Or dance, if you follow the iPod commercials...

ok editors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23702149)

why most articles nowdays have an apple quote inside even when the subject is not about any apple product?. power your iPods, is an iPhone like to refer to mobile devices, is like an appletv, TileStack is perfect for the iPhone. How much apple pays the editors, or is only fanboyism?.

Why don't we put little bikes under our desks? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23702153)

I wouldn't mind spending some time during the work day pedaling along. It probably wouldn't generate tons of energy, but it might be useful.

Don't exhale (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23702183)

The only way this is going to be "emission free" is if people don't exhale.

The idea is not as bad as it seems (4, Insightful)

ZarathustraDK (1291688) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702227)

Getting all nerded up and talking about "there is no free energy" only covers it partly, specificly the bad part.

In 'reality' though there are certain bonusses to a soft walking surface.

1. You get more traction and reduce slipping of feet (which is a problem on hard surfaces with grains of sand on it).

2. Damage from falling is reduced.

3. A soft surface is easier on the joints, which is important for everyone, though especially elderly and disabled people.

Try finding one of those new fancy playgrounds with a semi-soft rubbery-like surface and walk on it. Much more comfortable to walk on compared to concrete.

Green? (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702229)

If I don't wash them, they do turn green. Does that count?

How long? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23702241)

'34,000 travellers passing through every hour could power 6,500 lightbulbs' - for how long? Probably for one minute, although they seem to be trying to imply a day.

Flintstones (1)

Anubis_Ascended (937960) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702259)

Am I the only one who, reading the title, immediately thought of The Flintstones [wikipedia.org] ?

Bwuh? (1)

Phanatic1a (413374) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702287)

.. The plans for heel-strike generation follow successful trials last year at a bridge in the Midlands where generators converted energy from trains passing above into electricity powering a flood detector.'

That couldn't possibly be more efficient than just plugging the flood detector into the same source that powers the trains.

It is much more efficient (1)

ctid (449118) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702437)

Because you have to get the oil which powers the source from your sworn enemies.

when you think about it. (1)

Truekaiser (724672) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702291)

not to belittle the effort of the people who implement such systems. though when you come right down to it and think about it, this is the equivalent of 'grasping at straw's' when it comes to power generation. especially when you think about all the energy that needs to be expended just to get a person there to generate it.

What you're forgetting is ... (2, Insightful)

ctid (449118) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702417)

.. that the person would be there anyway. You have to think about this idea as recovering wasted energy, rather than generating new energy because all those people are walking about anyway.

What's with all the negative waves? (1, Insightful)

Charcharodon (611187) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702335)

Someone could come up with a power source that is practically free in every sense, and the majority of the people on /. would tear it down.

If we could build a device to pick up all the negative waves around here, the amount of energy collected would cause the Sun to snuff out a septillionth of a second later.

Its a cool idea, even if its not 100% practical. Throwing around the standard "there's no free lunch" response doesn't prove your smart, it just proves you're an asshole.

i call dupe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23702401)

didn't we have exactly that topic at least once (if not twice) a few years back? This sounds awfully familiar, including the comments.

How about harness doors? (4, Interesting)

British (51765) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702461)

Take a door in a public place. There's a hydraulic mechanism to make sure it doesn't slam shut. There's a bit of a resistance when you open a door. Think of how many times doors in public places open & close on a given day. Sure, it may not be much per 1 door open/shut, but imagine a shopping mall or office with hundreds of doors.

Take the hydraulic damper and turn it into a generator. Chain together all the doors and have it provide power peak power hours(when the public will be using them). Make them compatible(ie mount-wise) with existing dampers & retrofit them everywhere.

Slap a generator on those revolving doors too. Imagine the power it could make in a busy downtown area.

Dang, I should patent this before.........

Re:How about harness doors? (3, Informative)

isj (453011) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702723)

Already done in the comic Gaston [wikipedia.org] , where he invented such a device which could press the juice from 4 oranges, grind 30g coffee and stamp 5 letters. His coworkers were not pleased.

Ever heard of thermodynamic? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23702585)

Given than a human muscular efficiency is considerably less than most combustion-based engines, and considering the energetic cost of producing then delivering the food in the first place is itself steep, I expect the net energy gain to be gruesomely negative. Most corn-based biofuel plants in the US fail to "get even" right now: this is an even worse bet.

Tiny energy source (1)

Jasper__unique_dammi (901401) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702615)

Yet another hilariously small energy source tapped at great expense. I am sure that if we tapped many of these small energy sources, that it might amount to something. I am also sure that it would be horribly cost-ineffective relative to alternatives.

Even better... (2, Funny)

NerveGas (168686) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702687)

As that will make it harder for people to walk, and they will have to expend more energy... that means greater sales in the food court. Woohoo!

Free Energy ? (1)

sfm (195458) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702705)

While touted at free energy, it actually comes from all the people. I doubt all this foot traffic will generate significant energy without
people noticing/complaining. Walking 30 meters will be just a little
harder... all to make $.01 of electricity. I'm skeptical.
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