Thursday, June 17, 2010

Human Power at Home, on the Go, and at Play

Amanda Reed

After reading Joe Romm's recent blog entry, "Good for Your Buns, Good for the Environment," I started noticing other stories about human powered devices circulating the web, and thought I'd share a link round-up of a selection of new resources and products with Worldchanging readers. As Alex Steffen has previously written, human powered devices can provide us with a "sense of the kind of actual work done by the machines we use to power our civilization, [which] is itself a worldchanging realization, a sort of making visible the invisible."

Power at Home
  • The Human Powered Home: Choosing Muscles over Motors is a book by Tamara Dean that features "pedal-powered, treadled, and hand-cranked devices for use in and around the home." Per the book's website:
    It includes a brief history of such devices, from Archimedes’ screw to electricity-generating boots. It describes the physiology and physics behind human power and reveals how many watts one person can practically generate. It also includes plans for building your own devices, such as a pedal-powered blender and electricity generator. But most inspiring, it tells the stories of inventors from around the world and their ingenious contraptions.

    The book's website features a number of the human-powered contraptions from the book. Check out the gallery and links sections for images and information on some pretty inspiring projects around the world!
Power on the Go...on Wheels
  • BioLogic ReeCharge by Dahon enables cyclists to generate power and charge up devices with a USB connection while they ride:
    The BioLogic ReeCharge connects to all dynamo hubs on the market. Proprietary circuitry converts and regulates the intermittent power generated by the dynamo hub, for input into the ReeCharge’s high capacity lithium polymer battery. The battery then outputs a stable current to safely charge electronic devices. Devices that are not designed to output a stable current to electronic devices can damage the batteries of those devices. The BioLogic ReeCharge attaches to a bicycle by means of a wrap-around silicon case. The weatherproof silicon case even features sealed cable ports.

    Taschen has included this device in their new book "Product Design in the Sustainable Era," a preview of which is available online at The Guardian (the BioLogic ReeCharge appears on slide 6). A demonstration video of the device is available on YouTube.
Power on the Foot
  • Orange Power Wellies are a new rain boot designed by mobile phone company Orange that can "convert heat energy from feet into electricity"; electricity that is perfect for charging up your cell phone. How it works:
    "After a full days festival frolics you can plug your phone into the power output at the top of the welly and use the energy that has been generated throughout the day to charge your phone. The power collected in the ‘power generating sole’ is collected via a process known as the ‘Seebeck’ effect. Inside the power generating sole there are thermoelectric modules constructed of pairs of p-type and n-type semiconductor materials forming a thermocouple. These thermocouples are connected electrically forming an array of multiple thermocouples (thermopile). They are then sandwiched between two thin ceramic wafers. When the heat from the foot is applied on the top side of the ceramic wafer and cold is applied on the opposite side, from the cold of the ground, electricity is generated."
    (via Tonic)
Power at Play
  • sOccket is a plug-in soccer ball that captures energy during play and stores the juice for later use as a power source. With the sOccket soccer ball kids can play a game of soccer after school, leave the playground, take the ball home, plug a basic lamp into a built-in fixture and have enough light to do homework; a great tool for kids in developing nations that may not have buildings with electricity available. The idea for sOccket was developed by four Harvard University students in an engineering class in the Fall of 2008. Today they are partnered with Whizzkids United. For more on sOccket see "World Cup Exclusive: Women Entrepreneurs Use Soccer Ball to Bring Clean Energy to Developing Nations":
    “sOccket may not be a solution to the energy crisis,” says Lin. “But it is a new way of thinking about problems many people face on a day to day basis…and it enables empowerment, for children to literally power their own lives.”

See the Worldchanging archives for more on human power:
  • BikePower! (Pedal-powered Electricity): Alex Steffen looks at David Butcher's pedal-powered generator and says though it's not a terribly effective way to create the amount of energy the average person living a developed-world lifestyle needs, the point is as much conceptual as practical, connecting us bodily with the amount of power that runs through our lives (and often goes wasted)...

  • Human Powered!: Regine Debatty reviews some projects from the Human Powered Workshop, including prototypes of a bike that heats a cup of tea while you cycle through the countryside, a power generating shopping cart for the homeless, a fun vehicle to clean the streets, and a system that powers your mouse by the movements you make with it...

Image sources from top-to-bottom:
The Human Powered Home; Biologic ReeCharge diagram; Orange Power Wellies; sOccket 2.0 (Photo: Jessica Lin); Bike 4 Tea; and photo of human anatomy model courtesy of Flickr photographer telstar under the Creative Commons License.