Regenerative braking in a shoe
April 12, 2005 4:44 PM   Subscribe

"...this effort has examined devices that can be built into a shoe, (where excess energy is readily harvested) and used for generating electrical power "parasitically" while walking."

Regenerative braking in a shoe for powering small personal electronics, courtesy of MIT's Media Lab. With video. [via Hack A Day]
posted by scarabic (13 comments total)
Cool. Imagine having to jog in place because your mobile takes to much power to render 3D games at high fps.
posted by spazzm at 5:01 PM on April 12, 2005

I've wanted to do this since the fifth grade, when I had the idea in an electronics class. I'm glad someone's playing with the idea.
posted by Nothing at 5:19 PM on April 12, 2005

Just don't even think about wearing them to fly.
posted by djfiander at 5:26 PM on April 12, 2005

generating po-wer!
posted by ba3r at 6:43 PM on April 12, 2005

Upskirt photographers rejoice!
posted by squirrel at 7:43 PM on April 12, 2005

Btw, thanks for the hack a day link, scarabic. That site rocks!
posted by squirrel at 7:53 PM on April 12, 2005

Needless to say, I think it's important that this be carried off in a totally ergonomic and safe way. I'm sure the last thing that the media lab folks think of is long-term use and the impact on joints and muscles. But it's fully possible that collecting some of the impact energy could be wholly beneficial to the ankle and foot. I'd like nothing better than to see such a synergy cone about in a useful way. For now, it's just one more interesting idea from the MIT/ML. But I've always got my eye on devices that could allow me to retire to a log cabin deep in the wilderness and still have enough juice to write on some kind of laptop.
posted by scarabic at 11:43 PM on April 12, 2005

This is the latest incarnation of research they've been doing there for years. Well, that somebody's been doing there for years; I get the sense that a lot of things happen at the Media Lab that immediately get forgotten, and then get re-invented a couple of years later, often with an inferior implementation.

This actually looks somewhat more primitive than the last such thing I read about, which as I recall used some kind of piezoelectric device to generate very low amounts of power. (Last time I went to track that down, I couldn't find it; I scoured the Wired archives for a long time, but I just couldn't track it down. Thinking this was circa 1999 or so.)

What gets really interesting for me is when you combine this with low-voltage networking through the body. I would swear up and down that i've read of Media lab experiments that demonstrated the integration of those earlier shoe-driven power generation devices with peripherals incorporated into clothing, that were networked through the meat. Again, though, I couldn't track it down last time I went looking for it.

Scarabic -- it occurs to me that if you took a blank slate approach, you could re-invent the UI with very very low overhead. The software architectures that we use for UIs on computers would be largely inapplicable for devices that are integrated very deeply with the human body.

Thing is, to use such a device, you might have to make some very basic changes to the way you use your body; I'm always reminded, when I think about this stuff, of an old Samuel Delaney story about people who have themselves modified so they can pilot spacecraft using direct hardware interfaces. These people have difficulty doing ordinary things like walking or using cutlery, because they're conditioned/modified to limit extraneous nerve impulses; hence, they look and act much like someone with cerebral palsey. (Being a Delaney story, of course there was a sexual angle, too: People who sought out these modified people for sex...)
posted by lodurr at 6:29 AM on April 13, 2005

This is wicked cool. I've got a flashlight that is powered by shaking it. If instead you powered it off of a generator clipped to your shoe it would be perfect for walking around at night.
posted by Mitheral at 9:48 AM on April 13, 2005

This is, indeed, very cool and an idea many of us have had before, I'm sure.

Similarly, I like the concept of harnessing all that power being generated at health clubs by people on stationary bikes. It would be cool to sit down, plug my iPod in and charge it myself by pedaling. Or to have the same thing to attach to my real bike.

Nice find, scarabic!
posted by fenriq at 11:09 AM on April 13, 2005

Yeah, it's hilarious that a stationary bike or treadmill actually consumes electricity (for the monitoring electronics or motors or whatever) when it should generate such a massive surplus of energy. If health clubs ever sit down to examine how much their lighting bills are costing them, perhaps things will change.

The other day I was driving down the street and I saw a retail space covered in rooftop solar panels. I thought to myself "Huh. I wonder what environmentally responsible business that is?"

On closer inspection, it was a home lighting showroom/store. Zillions of lamps on inside. I'm sure the solar panels were installed just to save money - nothing environmental about it.
posted by scarabic at 11:55 AM on April 13, 2005

... nothing environmental about it.

Sure it's environmental. Years ago, I wrote a white paper on centralized lighting distributed through light pipes, and I read at that time (this is early '90s) about factory lighting via light concentrators. There were these big polyhedral collectors on the roof, that sent the light down a reflective hollow pipe to a luminaire.

Of course they used them to save money. Why not? That doesn't make it non-environmental. People have to have a reason to do these things. For you or I, the aesthetic reasons can be sufficient; for businesses, they'll need a cost rationale.
posted by lodurr at 6:48 PM on April 13, 2005

The point you make speaks right to the heart of our current need for corporate reform, lodurr. It's a tangent, but related. This personage, the corporation, that we have legally brought into being, like Frankenstein's monster, is outright hostile to everything around it, murderously aggressive, and oblivious to suffering and environmental damage. It's a horrifying creature that yet performs several useful functions, thangs that we have come to depend upon. I've never been a proponent of the death penalty, so I say we don't kill it off. Still we have to treat it like any homicidal sociopath, which means retricting its freedoms. While maximizing its ability to do good work for us, we must limit its ability to do harm.

This may sound like 1+1=2, but it's the exact oposite of what's happening in America today.
posted by squirrel at 6:59 PM on April 14, 2005

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