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Power Technology

"Crowd Farm" to Collect Energy? 357

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the kriss-kross-to-make-comeback dept.
Cain writes to mention that a couple of MIT students would like to harness the mechanical power of large groups of people. "A Crowd Farm in Boston's South Station railway terminal would work like this: A responsive sub-flooring system made up of blocks that depress slightly under the force of human steps would be installed beneath the station's main lobby. The slippage of the blocks against one another as people walked would generate power through the principle of the dynamo, a device that converts the energy of motion into that of an electric current."
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"Crowd Farm" to Collect Energy?

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  • A better idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by KingSkippus (799657) * on Monday July 30, 2007 @03:13PM (#20047563) Homepage Journal

    Why make it so hard? Just hook the dynamo up to the turnstiles instead.

  • by Kranfer (620510) on Monday July 30, 2007 @03:14PM (#20047583) Homepage Journal
    I love this! If they install something like this on the streets around me I am going to send the electric company a bill for my time to generate their power ... what am I a giant hamster to them?!
    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by Assassin bug (835070)
      Yes.
    • by 'nother poster (700681) on Monday July 30, 2007 @03:19PM (#20047677)
      Yes. Now eat your pellets and back on the giant wheel.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by samoverton (253101)
      Energy isn't free, I have to pay for the food that I eat in order to generate that energy that they are taking.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by morari (1080535)
      The electric company is already to obligated to pay for any excess power you would happen to generate. Add that fact on top of not having an electric bill and the waterwheel that I installed starts to look pretty nifty.
    • by gstoddart (321705)

      I love this! If they install something like this on the streets around me I am going to send the electric company a bill for my time to generate their power ... what am I a giant hamster to them?!

      You could choose not to walk over the evil power generating floor if it upsets your delicate sensibilities. Besides, it's not like you're spending your time generating power -- you, and everyone else, are generating power incidental to what you were already doing. They're just collecting it.

      Now, get back on your

    • by suv4x4 (956391) on Monday July 30, 2007 @04:52PM (#20049275)
      I love this! If they install something like this on the streets around me I am going to send the electric company a bill for my time to generate their power ... what am I a giant hamster to them?!

      You may want to actually. As you know, energy isn't appearing out of nowhere and doesn't go nowhere.

      It may be harder to walk on blocks that slightly depress as you walk on them. Sort of like walking in mud, but not that bad.

      They could explain exercise is good for you, but if you're trying to go back home after a tiresome day, you may not enjoy the compulsory experience.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Now the only technical problem is getting americans out of their cars...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Assassin bug (835070)
      True. And maybe the sidewalk 2.0 will convert their mass to energy!
      • by whoever57 (658626)

        True. And maybe the sidewalk 2.0 will convert their mass to energy!
        I'd give up a few dead skin cells for a lifetime supply of energy!
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by EtoilePB (1087031)
      Now the only technical problem is getting americans out of their cars...

      If you've ever been in Boston's South Station or New York's Grand Central or any of a dozen other major urban transit hubs at rush hour... there are plenty of people there not using cars.
  • Would they have implemented a way to collect the energy of me tripping and stumbling as well? It seems that I would make a lot more energy tripping over the small rises created than the depression itself.

    Too bad I travel from North Station in Boston ;)~
  • by techpawn (969834) on Monday July 30, 2007 @03:17PM (#20047623) Journal
    Use the mosh pit to power the amps! the phrase "Behold the power of ROCK" has more meaning now
    • I don't think that would work too well... have you ever seen a mosh start before the concert?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Radon360 (951529)

      Well, that would make a rather nice positive (yet self-limiting) feedback loop. If the band sucks, the music stops (or at least gets quieter). You still need to get it going. Do you give the band a limited capacitive jumpstart to get the crowd going or do you wait until the crowd starts chanting and stomping their feet to get the show going?

  • by User 956 (568564) on Monday July 30, 2007 @03:19PM (#20047663) Homepage
    A Crowd Farm in Boston's South Station railway terminal would work like this: A responsive sub-flooring system made up of blocks that depress slightly under the force of human steps

    I have a better idea. Why not make a system that generates energy under the force of collapsing Big Dig tunnel sections? [boston.com]
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Penguinshit (591885)
      Or turn the seat cushions into methane collectors...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by MikShapi (681808)
      >> Why not make a system that generates energy under the force of collapsing Big Dig tunnel sections?

      Yep. Stacks up neatly next to selling screenspace on BSODs for advertising.

      Gotta love our new economy.
  • by omnilynx (961400) on Monday July 30, 2007 @03:19PM (#20047671)
    This will probably make it slightly harder (and more tiring) to walk on those surfaces. The energy has to come from somewhere.
    • by snowgirl (978879)
      That's what I'm thinking, too. It's like, hey! I have to eat food to make that energy... you can't "recover" it from me like that!
    • by whoever57 (658626)

      This will probably make it slightly harder (and more tiring) to walk on those surfaces. The energy has to come from somewhere.
      Don't complain or you will be charged for the free workout that you are getting.
    • by Mattintosh (758112) on Monday July 30, 2007 @05:33PM (#20049709)
      Actually, it will probably be more comfortable to walk on. You already step down onto a hard floor, and that causes the "shock" (suddenly stopped kinetic energy) to reverberate up your skeletal system, making your joints hurt. That energy would be absorbed by this flooring system, so the joint shock would be lessened.
      • by r00t (33219)
        A decent modern shoe is spring-like. It stores energy as you compress it, then gives back energy as you take off the weight.

        I don't want some greedy floor stealing my energy.
    • Oh no... (Score:3, Funny)

      by jgoemat (565882)
      I don't think anyone in the U.S.A. could stand to lose any weight...
  • by NavyNasa (18525) on Monday July 30, 2007 @03:19PM (#20047679)
    3 to 4 year olds.
    We could power a small coutry if we installed these in pre-schools.
  • by link-error (143838) on Monday July 30, 2007 @03:19PM (#20047691)
    Wow... hook one of those up to my keyboad.... Well, just my delete key would generate a few megawatts of power.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by veganboyjosh (896761)
      Wow... hook one of those up to my keyboad.... Well, just my delete key would generate a few megawatts of power.

      Looks like you're well on your way.
  • Noooo! (Score:5, Funny)

    by timeOday (582209) on Monday July 30, 2007 @03:19PM (#20047695)
    Quit trying to steal my energy. I'm fat on purpose, you insensitive clod!
  • Visionary (Score:4, Funny)

    by sakonofie (979872) on Monday July 30, 2007 @03:22PM (#20047737)

    And while the farm is an urban vision, the dynamo-floor principle can also be applied to capturing energy at places like rock concerts, too. "Greater movement of people could make the music louder," suggests Jurcyzk.
    Truly visionary. I can see it now. [dreamlike swirling effect] Concert Goer A - "I still can't hear the band" Concert Goer B - "Mosh Harder!" ... 70 minutes goes by ... Concert Goes A - "Oh god I can't feel my legs anymore. I need to take a break." Concert Goer B - "I paid 60 dollars for this ticket and drove 200 miles. You are going to mosh whether you like it or not!"
  • by Alzheimers (467217) on Monday July 30, 2007 @03:23PM (#20047745)
    Why not just install wool carpets, make everyone take their shoes off and walk around in fuzzy socks. Then, they can touch special metal plates to donate their built-up static charge to the grid.

    And for fun, they can make ramps without carpeting, for sliding down. Go back up, build up a charge, discharge and slide down again. I'd be on that all day!
  • School Science (Score:2, Interesting)

    Ages ago in a sceince lesson we were asked to analyse the idea of pulling rollers on the M25 motorway to capture the energy of vehicles that ran over them, well I sort of spotted the flaw in the plan being that the car would all get sucky MPG and polute more.

    Now one decade later we have the same idea but with people, howmuch polution will that produce (though extra repiration)? also would not the capture of all the excess heat produced by said people to heat say water (save money on heating by getting t
    • Ages ago in a sceince lesson we were asked to analyse the idea of pulling rollers on the M25 motorway to capture the energy of vehicles that ran over them, well I sort of spotted the flaw in the plan being that the car would all get sucky MPG and polute more.

      1. Don't you mean KPG? Last I checked, the M25 was in Britain. :-P

      2. The loophole in the problem is: Dampeners. Anywhere you install dampeners (e.g. bridges), you are already dissipating excess energy. Reconfiguring the dampening systems to rechannel th

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lijemo (740145)
      Don't worry, South Station has several fast-food restaurants that people can use to more than recoup the calories they involuntarily donated to the "crowd farm".
    • by zCyl (14362)

      Ages ago in a sceince lesson we were asked to analyse the idea of pulling rollers on the M25 motorway to capture the energy of vehicles that ran over them, well I sort of spotted the flaw in the plan being that the car would all get sucky MPG and polute more.

      Uhm. But the surface of the tire does not slide along the road unless something has gone very wrong, and most of a car's motion is maintained by inertia, so there is very little tangential force at the point of contact. Therefore a roller would receiv

  • by Metaphorically (841874) * on Monday July 30, 2007 @03:26PM (#20047801) Homepage
    How much energy does this thing recover?
    FTA:

    The electric current generated by the Crowd Farm could then be used for educational purposes, such as lighting up a sign about energy. "We want people to understand the direct relationship between their movement and the energy produced," says Juscyzk.


    So let's collect energy so we can waste it?
    I wonder what it feels like walking on this floor - there's got to be some difference since the energy I normally expend is only enough to hold me up. If there's no perpetual motion machine here then doesn't the energy ultimately come from my breakfast?
    • by gstoddart (321705)

      If there's no perpetual motion machine here then doesn't the energy ultimately come from my breakfast?

      Of course it does. That's the point.

      I suspect the rationale is that it's using energy you'd already be expending -- if you're going to walk over the concourse, you're already applying that energy to the floor. Now they want to harvest all of the little bits as everyone walks through.

      You're probably not going to use a measurable amount of more energy. It's definitely not perpetual motion.

      Cheers

      • applying that energy to the floor

        Not to be rude, but I don't think that makes sense. I'm applying a force against the floor that's exactly equal and opposite in direction to the force of gravity. The energy these guys want to "recover" isn't energy that I currently expend. If I were expending extra energy then that energy would have to go somewhere now, beyond the elastic potential energy that's already stored in the rubber soles of my shoes and whatnot.
        • by Sparr0 (451780)
          You are absolutely correct. Since the blocks shift downwards when you step on them, walking across this floor would be equivalent to walking up a set of stairs, with each 'next' block higher than the one you are standing on.
    • Interesting. Yes, It would come from your breakfast.

      66% of Americans are overweight by 20 pounds or more.
      20 Pounds = 70,000 calories or about 300,000 joules.
      300,000,000 people * 0.66 = 198,000,000
      198,000,000 * 300,000 = 59,400,000,000,000 joules

      And that's.. Only about 456,923 gallons of gas. A drop in the bucket.

      Not surprising considering it takes about 196,000 pounds of plants to make a gallon of gasoline. So much for using humans as batteries.
  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Monday July 30, 2007 @03:32PM (#20047891)

    The slippage of the blocks against one another as people walked would generate power through the principle of the dynamo, a device that converts the energy of motion into that of an electric current.

    Ever walked in sand? It's many, many times slower and harder. So what are they going to do with travellers that are already exhausted from travel? Piss them off with a hard-to-walk-on floor. There's also NEVER 30,000 people in South Station; where did they get that number from? Let's put this in perspective: Fenway stadium, average summer weekend game, is ~30,000 people. Even at peak commuter rush hour, I think you'd be hard pressed to find even one TENTH that number of people at any one time.

    The electric current generated by the Crowd Farm could then be used for educational purposes, such as lighting up a sign about energy.

    Wow. Oh. Wow.

    The MBTA (which is BILLIONS of dollars in debt) and Amtrak (same...) have much bigger priorities than some stupid concept like this. How about PA systems which actually work (and don't broadcast "please report suspicious packages, safety is our NUMBER ONE PRIORITY!" every 2 minutes), bus fareboxes which work in cold weather, online lookup+refilling of Charliecard balances, integration of Charliecards into the parking garages, or online bus status? (the busses have been equipped for years with such a capability.)

    Or even the "signaling" systems in the orange line which are constantly broken, or replacing more cars on the green line (the newer cars use much more efficient motors which are also capable of regenerative braking), same for the red line. The entire orange and blue lines are also non-regenerative braking as well.

    • by LWATCDR (28044)
      And here is the killer question.
      What would be the payback time? How long would it take to "make" enough power to pay for the floor?
      Or even better how long would it take to make enough power to make up for the power it took to make the floor?
    • by Plugh (27537)
      The MBTA (which is BILLIONS of dollars in debt) and Amtrak (same...) have much bigger priorities than some stupid concept like this.

      Two words:
      Government Program

  • hell no! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SolusSD (680489) on Monday July 30, 2007 @03:33PM (#20047907) Homepage
    That will make it slightly, but measurably, harder for me to walk across that surface!
  • by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Monday July 30, 2007 @03:34PM (#20047919)
    Let's do the math:
    • Let's say we can grab say one-tenth of a walker's energy without them caring.
    • Walking takes about 1/20th of a horsepower.
    • So we're getting 1/200th of a horsepower from each person.
    • If we assume there's 1000 people walking by, that's two horsepower.
    • About 1500 watts.
    • That's about ten cents an hour. Given the variability of traffic, maybe a dollar a day.
    • Assuming the mechanism costs a measly $100,000, at a dollar a day you can't even pay the interest on the loan.
    • PLus it probably needs more than $1 a day of maintenance.
    • Not a good idea.
  • So are we witnessing the return of step-activated booby traps in modern civilization?

    I for one welcome our new huge-spherical-stone-balls-heading-right-for-us masters.
  • If people have to step on a somewhat soft floor to produce this energy, they will expend a certain amount more energy walking than normal. Now, sure, if this is done in your average American city, that isn't a bad thing, the average American could afford to do a bit more exercise.

    It's also not likely to be a very energy-efficient energy collection system, for every ten joules of energy expended walking on the squishy platform I'd be surprise to hear of one joule of energy collected.

    • Now, sure, if this is done in your average American city, that isn't a bad thing, the average American could afford to do a bit more exercise

      I was just thinking along those same lines, then I came to the conclusion that this will fail in at least one of a few ways:

      1. Will not slim down the population: people will "reward themselves" for having been a good citizen and for all the hard work they put in walking across that floor
      2. Will fail to generate energy: people will drive themselves rather than use tran
  • by KermodeBear (738243) on Monday July 30, 2007 @03:36PM (#20047977) Homepage
    I believe that I saw an article on Slashdot several months ago where this kind of idea was implemented in Britain, but it was on the roads. Cars getting onto the highways would drive over large plates; the plates would move and generate enough electricity to run street lights. Not a bad idea, but I wonder if the energy return in this case would be enough to justify the cost of installation.
    • by SirGarlon (845873) on Monday July 30, 2007 @04:04PM (#20048515)
      The First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created from nothing. I believe that applies in Britain as well as the U.S., so the energy to power those plates came from somewhere. To wit, from the automobiles. The Second Law of Thermodynamics tells us that any time energy is transferred, some will be lost to entropy. Essentially such a device is A) using petrol in the cars to power the streetlights, and B) doing so less efficiently than would be putting petrol in the street lights and burning it there. It's a waste of fuel; indeed, a waste of dirty-burning fuel that creates CO2 (a greenhouse gas) and NO2 (smog). A horrible idea.
  • by Whuffo (1043790) on Monday July 30, 2007 @03:37PM (#20047985) Homepage Journal
    The people walking on this surface will know they're doing work; to get a perceptible amount of power, the load on the walkers will be perceptible too.

    The real engineering trick with this design is explaining to the people that they're not just rats on a treadmill. That's not an easy problem for MIT kids to solve on their slide rules...

    Especially if they're going to put systems like this in "crowd" areas - crowds aren't only composed of healthy adults, they also contain children, disabled people, etc. How hard would it be to push a wheelchair across this thing?

    • by zipwow (1695)
      "Please enjoy our newly renovated walkway, now with extra cushioning for your steps!"

      It's all about degree of added difficulty, and marketing.

      -Zipwow
    • by timholman (71886)
      Something else the designers are overlooking: this floor will be dangerous. Let's assume a floor block has to depress 1 cm to get a useful amount of power out of the step. Now you've got a 1 cm lip around that block relative to the adjacent blocks. Inevitably someone is going to catch a toe on the edge of a block, trip, and fall. A certain percentage of those people who fall will injure themselves and require medical treatment. With thousands of people walking across the floor every day, you're going t
  • If I read this correctly they claim that for each human step you can power a 120W bulb for a second. Something tells me they are using funny numbers here. Have you ever gone to one of those museums, or somewhere else that has a hand generator hooked up to a small tv or light bulb? It takes a decent amount of cranking, and this is a case where your puprose is turning the crank so most of your energy is directed towards that goal. With walking most of your energy directed into another goal, walking. There is
  • Why should we spend time both commuting to work, and exercising at the gym?

    They should outfit the vehicles with exercise bikes with dynamos. Pay people to pedal everyone to work, instead of the pedalers paying for the ride. Watch the energy costs go down, and watch the obesity problems go down, too. Then watch more people bike to work on a freerunning bicycle, except in bad weather.

    Then make people pay penalties for being over the average weight, and the entire system finds its optimum lean efficiency.
  • They should trial this in the fattest city in the US (apparently, Houston). Install these devices on every refrigerator door, toilet flusher, and McDonald's trash can flap in the city, and watch the pounds melt off.
  • Instead of making a surface where people depress some kind of dynamo, why not just capture vibrations generated from walking on the floor? That way, you're only using *wasted* energy which is normally dissipated in the form of sound, vibrations, and heat, rather than make people work to walk on a squishy floor.
  • ... how cost effective can any such a solution be?

    If it's not very efficient, the solution had better look something like a cheap and durable mat that converts footsteps directly into electric energy. If it's more complex, for example requiring a fancy hydraulic system, then it had better be a lot more efficient or else the cost will likely turn out to be prohibitive.
  • by martyb (196687) on Monday July 30, 2007 @03:50PM (#20048219)
    FTFS:

    "A responsive sub-flooring system made up of blocks that depress slightly under the force of human steps would be installed beneath the station's main lobby.

    And when the snow comes in winter, when the floor is wet and/or icy, people will be falling all over the place increasing their energy donation to the system. <sarcasm>grin</sarcasm>

    But seriously, just how much would it COST to build, install, and maintain a floor-wide energy absorbing system? May I suggest they put these panels under the stairs, instead? Especially on the stairs going DOWN. Take advantage of the energy of the crowds where the investment is smallest and the payback is the greatest. This could even be developed as an after-market item and installed ANYWHERE, without having to modify existing infrastructure. i.e. place meta-steps on top of the existing steps and then wire the meta-steps together.

  • MIT plagiarism (Score:5, Informative)

    by rubycodez (864176) on Monday July 30, 2007 @04:12PM (#20048653)
    the japanese already have such a system http://www.japanfs.org/db/1667-e [japanfs.org]
  • by Seismologist (617169) on Monday July 30, 2007 @04:18PM (#20048737)

    Reason why this flooring system won't be feasible:

    1. Cost: flooring alone costs up to 200 $/sf for tiling installed in public areas, not to mention cost of this type of floor proposed.

    2. Feasibility: There is going to be a lot of mechanical devices, lots of wiring, a computer system, moving parts, shifting parts, all of which will need to be maintained.

    3. Serviceability: The flooring will have to have some sort of diagnosis features as well maintenance access much like escalators probably. What happens when someone spills fluids, tracks in dirt, sand, drops paper clips into the joints, etc.? How about the physical surface cleaning requirements, will the floor be able to be cleaned waxed with conventional equipment?

    4. Aesthetics: Probably a major factor, is the deflections of the flooring, even if somehow minimized, people can still feel minute deflections. This is true in the design of buildings where the limiting design factor for a floor is not the dead and live loading conditions but the deflection criteria. You don't want people vibrating when someone walks past, the same will most likely be true on this flooring.

  • by sampson7 (536545) on Monday July 30, 2007 @06:45PM (#20050457)
    Did anyone read the article? Seriously. I know this is /., but I see 227 comments so far and two that I came across didn't miss the point entirely.

    These inventors are not trying to produce power on a commercial or even residential scale. They are creating an innovative urban design tool. Once you beyond all the silly slashdot pseudo physicists panning an idea they do not understand or even bother to read about, this is actually a great concept.

    First, it has a wonderful potential to enlighten and enthrall children. I know when I was 8, I would have loved running across a floor and seeing something happen. Where's the wonder? The curiosity? Wouldn't you think it was neat (even today) to sit on a subway car and see an LCD light power-up? That's one of the projects they described in the artile. Or a public art project that changes based on the number of people nearby? Concerts are only the beginning. Think of that silly Dance-Dance-Revolution game that all the kiddies these days are playing. I wonder what some game developer could do with this idea? Maybe a monument to some tragedy? When you step across some empty space a little light flickers somewhere in the distance.... not lit by a sensor, but by you. I don't know, maybe I'm just a romantic, but this seems like a cool idea for creative artistic types to run with.

    My second point is a little more serious. As an energy professional, I'm fascinated by the idea of combining lots of small, discrete sources of energy and combining them into a cohesive whole. One of the more interesting developments in the energy industry (and let me make clear, I am a lawyer, not an engineer) has been the development of the tidal power industry. Sure, there are a few working prototypes (rather like this floor) that generate some level of power, but are not even close to being cost effective. And there are some places (think the Bay of Fundy) where massive wave power makes power generation relatively trivial.

    But to my mind, the most interesting tidal projects are relatively passive ocean-based technologies that rely on small changes in the current or tides to generate power from a number of relatively small discrete events -- rather like a thousand people moving over a floor. Micro-wind turbines are similar.

    And it may be old hat now, but a few years ago it was considered quite the energy challenge to hook up a bunch of discrete wind turbines or other generation sources and regulate the voltage properly to generate usable power. Isn't that essentially what these people are doing?

    Don't get me wrong -- I know the floor idea is a novelty trick. But it's a cool novelty trick and maybe, perhaps, someday will become more. Who knows? But this is not some vaporware project or some company trying to drum up its stock price. Save the venom for someone who deserves it.
  • Tiles? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AeroIllini (726211) <aeroillini@@@gmail...com> on Monday July 30, 2007 @10:02PM (#20052375)
    Instead of tiles and dynamos, which would be constantly creating an uneven surface and making things difficult for children, the elderly, people in wheelchairs, people on crutches, etc., why wouldn't you just use a rubber surface with piezos on the underside?

    When walking on a hard surface, the energy of each step is dissipated in the form of vibration, sound, and heat, most of which is absorbed by your legs. Walking on a slightly softer (not sand soft, though) surface, allows the surface to depress slightly, which absorbs most of the impact. The reason walking on sand is much harder than walking on a hard surface is that the sand moves out of the way when you push against it, causing you to exert more muscle effort to take the same size step. On a soft surface that has the proper "springiness", the floor won't move out of the way as much. The combination of springy floor and floors that bend slightly on every step is exceedingly comfortable to walk on. Ask anyone who's walked on one of those horizontal escalators in airports with the rubber belt instead of the escalator steps (I know there are some in O'Hare airport; I'm sure there are other places, too). You feel positively lighter.

    If we attached hundreds of tiny piezoelectric devices per square foot on the underside of the floor, they will be able to capture the energy in the bending of the floor. The advantage of this is that the wiring infrastructure could be printed, like a circuit board, on the underside of rubber sections of floor, each of which could be swapped out for maintenance or replacement individually. Economies of scale would be in effect, since production of each floor tile would be identical to all the others before installation. Additionally, this floor might even be *more* comfortable than standard tile, and still allows for free movement of kids, the elderly, and the handicapped.

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