Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Capturing the Power of Trillions of Footfalls

Written by Raegan Payne

Elizabeth Redmond, 23, dreams of working at MIT’s Media Lab, one of the United States’ top scientific research and development centers. However, she has invented something that should make MIT and every other “think tank” in the country dream of her.

Elizabeth invented the POWERleap, a simple idea with brilliant applications. It’s a flooring system that generates electricity every time you move on one of the tiles. Elizabeth developed the POWERleap as her senior thesis project at the University of Michigan's School of Art and Design. She wanted to design a project that would educate people about their relationship and dependence on energy. Human bodies generate electricity, about 100 watts at rest, which (according to is enough to power the computer I am writing on.

Elizabeth set out to harness our bodies’ energy to power small objects. But when she realized that walking was our most abundant and consistent activity, and the energy harnessed from it could power something much bigger than an iPod, the design for the POWERleap tiles was born.

Redmond's unique floor tiles generate electricity using a phenomenon known as piezoelectricity – electricity generated by applying mechanical stress to certain materials like the lead zirconate plates in the POWERleap. When these 2-inch by 1-inch piezoceramic plates are bent, a charge is produced that can be harnessed. Multiply one tile by the surface area of a subway station or even your standard grocery store floor, and you can imagine the amount of energy these tiles have the potential to generate.

In a few years Elizabeth hopes people will be able to pull the POWERleap off the shelves of Home Depot and install it to power their homes. More importantly if we generate our own electricity it should change the way we consume, appreciate and utilize electric power. During our cell phone conversation, Elizabeth pointed out another beneficial feature of the technology. "Imagine a business powered by the people who move around inside it. When the people leave for the day the lights and power would automatically shut down."

Elizabeth expects the next stage of development and research to yield "an electromechanical system that is safe, efficient, easy to install, repair, and apply, and fun to participate with." She currently seeks funding for the next stage of the POWERleap's development. Since the applications of this technology are endless and the end of the oil age is fast approaching, let's hope she does not have trouble finding eager investors.

Original here

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