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OLPC Experiments With Cow-Powered Laptops 189

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the moove-over-solar-power dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The One Laptop Per Child Project (OLPC) is toying with a novel source of power for its low-cost XO laptops: cows. "We plan to drive a dynamo (taken from an old Fiat) through a system of belts and pulleys using cows/cattle," wrote OLPC's Arjun Sarwal, in an October 21 e-mail posted to one of the group's discussion lists. Sarwal and others are now finalizing the design of the cow-powered generator."
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OLPC Experiments With Cow-Powered Laptops

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  • by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Friday October 26, 2007 @07:31AM (#21126699) Homepage Journal
    There is no way this is true.
    There is no way they can get cows to power laptops, there is no way they would stay in their wheel.

    Now, if they suggested a beowolf cluster of hamsters then I would believe it.
    As it stands this article is just a load of bull.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 26, 2007 @07:42AM (#21126777)
      Aren't these laptops for developing nations such as India? If so, there are *FAR* better ways to generate energy. I know that cows are work animals, but this is a terrible application. Throw up a few photovoltaics, batteries, and regulators, and you have an generator unit costing the same that does not waste your work/food animal.

      Poor people using such animals tend to have a lot more common sense than we do. This is absolutely preposterous.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by pipatron (966506)
        RTFA:

        the group considered using solar energy but sunlight near Mumbai was not "consistently strong."
      • by Joebert (946227)

        Aren't these laptops for developing nations such as India? If so, there are *FAR* better ways to generate energy.

        You can say that again, I'm pretty sure you go to hell if you work a cow to death in India.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by monk.e.boy (1077985)

      Wouldn't you harness them to a pole that is perpendicular to the shaft of the generator.

      I'm sure they used to grind flour with the same sort of technology.

    • by FredDC (1048502) on Friday October 26, 2007 @07:49AM (#21126819)
      No, it's pretty real, they've made a deal with the OCPC project (One Cow per Child). They give the cow needed to power their laptop! It's a pretty sweet deal, you get a laptop and a cow! Now that's marketing!
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by slart42 (694765)

        No, it's pretty real, they've made a deal with the OCPC project (One Cow per Child). They give the cow needed to power their laptop! It's a pretty sweet deal, you get a laptop and a cow! Now that's marketing!
        On a more serious note, OCPC is actually called Send A Cow (http://www.sendacow.org.uk/ [sendacow.org.uk], they try to aid farmers to support themselves by donating livestock.
        • On a more serious note, OCPC is actually called Send A Cow (http://www.sendacow.org.uk/ [sendacow.org.uk], they try to aid farmers to support themselves by donating livestock.

          The Heifer Project http://www.heifer.org/ [heifer.org] could also be called the OCPC. I am not familiar with Send A Cow, but it sounds similar to the Heifer Project. As of the last time I checked, the Heifer Project had an amazingly low overhead. Meaning that most of the money donated to them actually went to the cause, not to paying an expensive staff.

        • by CastrTroy (595695)
          Or, you could just loan them the money to buy a goat [kiva.org]. And they have a 99% repayment rate.
      • I read that OLPC was trying to team up with Heifers for Humanity [heifer.org], but Heifer balked when they demanded that each cow have a USB port installed.
      • by legirons (809082)
        "No, it's pretty real, they've made a deal with the OCPC project (One Cow per Child)"

        Vous avez deux portables...
  • Cow Power (Score:4, Funny)

    by ZeroExistenZ (721849) on Friday October 26, 2007 @07:32AM (#21126713)
    "This is a 5CP laptop, but if you could overclock it to 6CP."
  • by jrumney (197329) on Friday October 26, 2007 @07:36AM (#21126731) Homepage
    Whenever I see a herd of cows, they are either standing still eating, or walking to the milking shed to be milked. Getting one to walk on a conveyer belt with no useful purpose for the cow is not going to be easy. They might get a more consistent supply hooking up a dynamo to the cow's jaw, chewing is something they do a lot of.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Eivind (15695)
      Read the article -- cattle is already used in this region for stuff like running waterpumps and similar. So we can assume that the problem of enticing the cows to walk in a circle (not on a conveyor belt) is a solved one.
      • by jrumney (197329)
        The article just says that cows "are being used in the fields". It doesn't say anything about waterpumps or getting them to walk in a circle.
        • by xenocide2 (231786)
          Thanks to modern society, I realize you're quite divorced from the skills of animal husbandry, but think back to Oregon Trail. They hauled wagons, and plowed fields, I think you can get one to walk in a circle. I mean, you can get a camel to do something similar [google.com]
    • They might get a more consistent supply hooking up a dynamo to the cow's jaw, chewing is something they do a lot of.

      They should make this device "girlfriend"-sized.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by duggi (1114563)
      Farming and watering the fields with cows is pretty much a common sight in India. Event after the green revolution of the 60's many farmers still use cows(Bulls too) for farming, and it works like a charm for the Indian media when showing the stereotyped poor farmer. That apart, using them as an energy source? Have they even thought of solar powered batteries? I am no expert, but I live in India, and I can make an approximate guess as to how much energy these cows can generate(they do live in slow motion w
      • by Ulven (679148)
        It wouldn't have mattered if they posted what they were smoking, as you didn't read it anyway.

        the group considered using solar energy but sunlight near Mumbai was not "consistently strong."
    • by Lumpy (12016)
      Exactly, they must not have did any studying. I grew up on a farm until I was 10. We had 5 cow and 4 horses as well as other livestock. the only think more sedentary than a cow is a pig. Cows are NOT a good source of energy outside of burning them for the calorie content or burning the cow pies.

      Horses? yes. the like to walk in circles on the exercisers.

      Their best bet would be figuring out how to get these people cheap solar panels. A panel array that is the size of the OLPC that folds out to be 6 panels
      • by Joebert (946227)

        Their best bet would be figuring out how to get these people cheap solar panels.

        I would have bet the farm that you were going to say cheap horses.
      • Perhaps you should have "did" more studying as well, though I guess that would be a tall order for a sub-10 year old child (though I do put a lot of credence in the opinion of a 8-year-old child who lives near 5 cattle).

        If you flip the ol' TV over to PBS, Discovery, or any random channel that shows either historical farming in a developed nation or current farming practices in a third-world country, you're bound to eventually see an Ox, Cow, Buffalo, or similar creature pulling a plow. Shockingly - to a fi
        • by operagost (62405)
          He didn't say anything about oxen or buffalo. Anyone who played Oregon Trail knows that oxen are the best for pulling heavy loads!
    • I think what they may be referring to is the cows' better-educated cousin, the ox. People have been using oxen for just this sort of purpose for millennia. The person who described the ox as being hitched to the vertical shaft of the generator was fairly accurate, as arrangements for ox-powered grain processing are set up in just that way, with the ox or oxen harnessed to a horizontal bar that is in turn attached to the vertical bar and the millstone. The ox then simply walks around in a circle, doing the h
      • by Bob-taro (996889)

        Oxen are basically a type of cattle, so it's not inaccurate to say cow-powered even if they are ox powered. The ones that do work are usually castrated - they are also called "steers". Regarding how much power they generate, it's angular velocity times torque. These are pretty strong animals, so they don't have to move very fast to generate a lot of power.

        I only know about this because my next door neighbor is a rodeo performer and has such animals in his yard. The steers make me nervous, because they

        • I suppose the steers are what the Victorians would have referred to as "gentleman cows," while the females are engaged in having calves and providing milk. I suspect that if you had an enterprise going where providing power and eventually becoming meat were a priority for your male cattle, you wouldn't want more than one of them to be intact. Bulls have always seemed to me to be a bit...well, testy I suppose. I laughed at myself because when I RTFA I immediately thought of an ox treading out the corn by wa
        • The steers make me nervous, because they have big horns and they just stare at me while I go back and forth in front of them riding my big, red "toro" lawnmower. Learning that they were castrated made me feel a little better, since that generally means they're not as aggressive.
          So, you're just in danger of being mauled, and not anything more, ah, disturbing. :-)
  • Cow Cafe (Score:5, Funny)

    by mrbluze (1034940) on Friday October 26, 2007 @07:36AM (#21126739) Journal

    I can see it now ... our proverbial third-world-teenager spending a sunny morning writing a slashdot journal in the shade of his cow. As he types, he notices his coffee is too strong .. no matter, a couple of squeezes of the cow and the espresso is an instant latte.

    Later that evening he is having a romantic chat with his girlfriend in the next village. Things get intense and the low power warning comes on her laptop. They are cut off as a great big cowpat soils his keyboard.

    (I could have gone further, but hey, this is a family show, right?)
    • Things get intense and the low power warning comes on her laptop.
      I hope you didn't mean that like you possibly could have meant it. The cow was getting a little overexcited reading the chats and used all its energy working itself into a sexual frenzy?
      • by mrbluze (1034940)
        Having a cow nearby might just be enough to make internet relationships that little bit more real.
  • disappointed (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Friday October 26, 2007 @07:40AM (#21126761)
    And here I was thinking the article was going to be about powering laptops with methane...
  • I was recently telling my colleagues (working at a wind turbine manufacturer) that we needn't worry that our turbines are 'not running' all over the globe. We'll just use cows and pulleys to generate some power.

    We will also cultivate edible plants for biodiesel. Cow dung would be used as more biofuel. Of course, we will have to deduct the methane from their belches and flatulence for calculating carbon credits.

    And for the customers who cannot afford large (MW class) wind turbines, we will offer them (alo
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Friday October 26, 2007 @07:48AM (#21126809) Journal
    Almost all the carts in India are drawn by bullocks (castrated bulls). Bullocks are used for irrigation, pressing oil out of seeds etc. They are trained to walk back and forth to draw water out of wells and to walk in circles to press oil. It is an eerie sight to drive on the rural roads in India late at night. The villagers cart their stuff to the nearest market towns, sell, watch a movie, get drunk and sleep in their carts. These bullocks are trained to walk home unaided. So you would come across this caravan of six or eight bullock carts, all obediently following the traffic rules (left side of the road) and plodding along. If you catch them going in opposite direction their eyes gleam eerily reflecting the headlamp. Always thought it would be a very simple thing to silently climb on to the leading cart, override the autopilot and drive the caravan to a secluded spot and rob the villagers. But somehow such crimes don't happen in rural India. (Other kinds of crimes do happen, don't want to paint too rosy a picture.)

    It would be a trivial thing to gear up an oil press and drive a tiny generator to power a few laptops.

    • by caseih (160668)
      In North America, we call them "oxen." The entire western settlement of the US was powered by oxen back in the latter half of the 19th century.
  • GNU (Score:4, Funny)

    by yourexhalekiss (833943) <herp@noSpaM.derpstep.com> on Friday October 26, 2007 @07:48AM (#21126813) Homepage

    You know, I bet you could use a gnu just as well as a cow. Same electrical power, higher meta factor.

    "You're using a gnu to power a GNU-powered device? My mind just exploded!"

  • The One Cow per Child Project (OCPC) applauds this initiative. The One Cow per Child Project
    (OCPC) needs your charity donation to save children from cowlessness. For only $1 a day you
    can feed a cow and make a child happy! Thank you for your attention.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      You might be joking, but Heifer International [heifer.org] isn't [heifer.org]. They give animals to low income third-world areas, and when the animals mate, they pass some of the offspring on to other poor people. My grandparents donate a Flock of Ducks [heifer.org] or Chicks [heifer.org] from every grandchild in our family at Christmas.
      • My grandparents donate a Flock of Ducks or Chicks from every grandchild in our family at Christmas.
        Waaaagh! I wanted a train set.

        Signed,

        One of your cousins.
      • by dajak (662256)
        It's a good initiative. It's certainly more useful than sending starving pastoralists in the Sahel bags of food after their lifestock already died of starvation.
    • by Fred_A (10934)

      The One Cow per Child Project (OCPC) applauds this initiative. The One Cow per Child Project
      (OCPC) needs your charity donation to save children from cowlessness. For only $1 a day you
      can feed a cow and make a child happy! Thank you for your attention.
      And meanwhile the OCPC (One Child Per Cow) is still dramatically underfunded and numerous cows are still lonely in the fields with nobody to read them bedtime stories.
  • Being Thrifty (Score:3, Interesting)

    by WillRobinson (159226) on Friday October 26, 2007 @07:57AM (#21126875) Journal
    After looking at the generator setup, this is something that would work. Generator from taxi's ready available cheep, a couple of front wheels from motorcycles also ready available. Ditto for 12 volt regulator and batteries. Driving farm animals around in a circle to run mills or other equipment for food processing has been done for centuries.

    My question of this working is that I would expect the cow section to run probably 1 RPM. I would expect that the generator must turn somewhere above 400 rpm to put out a full 12 volts. (alternators usually above 700 rpm). So that is a pretty good gear ratio. Hence you see the double gear increase. Seems like it would be better to use a horse, which walks a bit faster, for several hours a day to charge the batteries instead of a cow.
    • by westlake (615356)
      Seems like it would be better to use a horse, which walks a bit faster, for several hours a day to charge the batteries instead of a cow.

      I suspect that a draft horse - a work horse - has become rather too valuable an animal to be put to such mundane use.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Friday October 26, 2007 @08:03AM (#21126917) Journal
    He is using a couple of bicycle wheels to increase the rpm to drive a truck alternator it looks like. Simple mechanism, easily maintained by the bicycle mechanics of an Indian village. This might find more applications too. Like charging their cell phones. A large part of rural India is still not on the national electric grid. Even the grid goes down sometimes in the rural areas. Most villages have this oil press powered by bullocks walking in a circular path (about 30 feet in diameter) dragging a yoke connected to a central pivot. They take a minute to finish a circuit. RPM=1. The gearing ratio from the picture appears to be 1: 60. (10x6). Not enough in my opinion to drive a standard truck alternator. Their efficiency peaks at around 1800 RPM. (I did a windmill for my undergrad project and I needed to gear it up to 1800 RPM to drive a truck alternator). Need to add another wheel set, not difficult to do.
  • Low-power laptop (Score:4, Informative)

    by lobiusmoop (305328) on Friday October 26, 2007 @08:04AM (#21126929) Homepage
    The fact that the XO-1 was specifically designed to run on only 2-3 watts [wikipedia.org] (using Geode at 0.8 watts and LCD-backlit / reflective display at 0.1 to 1 watts), compared to the 15-20 watts on a normal laptop or 100-200 watts on a desktop makes this sort of thing quite feasible.
  • I wonder what Bucky would think about this since he is bashing cows this week.
  • I, for one, welcome our new dynamo-belt cow overlords.
  • Torque (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Algorithmnast (1105517) on Friday October 26, 2007 @08:52AM (#21127317)

    When you consider the use of a cow vs. the use of a small animal (like a hamster) you start having to understand how we turn physical motion into electricity.

    A small animal like a hamster is really cute, but they don't produce much usable electrical power. They only run long enough to get a workout, and if they get tired... they stop running. Yes, someone actually turned their hamster's wheel into a generator. [otherpower.com] The hamster could light up LEDs, but that's nowhere near powering a laptop.

    A cow, on the other hand, will produce excellent torque - if you can get it to walk - but then you waste some of that power changing the low-amp high-volt power into higher-amp lower-volt power. Remember - pumping water is essentially a high-torque/low-speed process, but most electrical generation is low-torque/high-speed. (But that's because most electrical generation is for AC power, not the charging of DC batteries. For DC charging, high-torque/low-RPM might work nicely.)

    However, what they're probably going for here isn't the optimal conversion of animal power to electrical power. What they're probably trying to do is transform into electricity what they perceive to be widely available power.

    • I would be concerned about the economics of feeding a cow for non-economic purposes in a developing country. Are cows free and freely fed, is this a fully sunk cost already? Presumably wind energy is the cheapest approach here. It would be advisable to keep a few options open, the cow being one isn't a poor option, but wind beats all really for remote low-cost power applications.
      AIK
      • You're absolutely right - those are all better ways of getting power - if they were trying to power the village.

        I personally prefer a mixture of wind and solar, with possible inputs from animal (even human) sources.

  • Aren't they good enough? That'll stay true to geekdom.
  • From an energetic point of view it's certainly more efficient to directly use the cow's food as fuel for a generator. Agreed, you can't milk it and heat with its poo...
  • This seems extremely odd. A cow powered dynamo must be capable of a few hundred watts, the olpc only needs 5-10watts to charge at fast rate. A $10-15 solar panel that's rated for ~10W would be cheaper, easier and require less maintenance.
    • by Radon360 (951529)

      I think that they're trying to come up with a solution that is an alternative to solar. Some places are known to be overcast for weeks at a time.

  • Why tie the cow to a treadmill/spinning in a circle?

    adapt kinetic watch tech http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automatic_quartz [wikipedia.org] to charge up a battery pack.. how impossible would it be to have battery packs you clip onto and off of the cows legs... let it walk where it will and at feeding time, swap batteries...

  • Where do you plug it in? Ewww, never mind!
  • But what exactly is the aim of OLPC? I know the simple aim is to get governments and NGOs to buy lots of these rugged little devices and pass them out to children. But what's the intended effect on the children? Will most of these countries where they're deploying (where apparently cow-power might be necessary to even turn the thing on) have internet access? Without that, is it basically a compact calculator/dictionary/encyclopedia (I'm assuming they're loading some practical software like that)? Becau
    • OLPC laptops are meant to set up an ad-hoc network when two or more are on (iirc, they can also act as repeaters in a low-power mode when not being used). The idea is that there will be internet access in some places, and other places will be able to get at it through the mesh.
      The primary use of the laptops will likely be as a Textbook.
      If you have 4 $50 textbooks used by a class of 30, it is cheaper for each to have a $100 laptop and 4 e-books than for each to have $200 of textbooks. Of course, none of thes
  • To hook up a couple of Labrador retrievers?

    Don't flame me--I actually own one and trust me they have a LOT of more excess energy to spare compared to a cow! But, of course, that would be mean and if you really want to create a win-win situation, it would be to hook the electrical grid up to the treadmills used on The Biggest Loser [nbc.com] and supply the whole damn city!

    On the surface this sounds like one great big practical joke of a story. But I don't know if I'm impressed or disappointed at the lack of cow fl

  • It's a good thing the Matrix used humans instead of cows for power, otherwise the movie would have been anticlimactic.
  • I think it will need more cow bell. Give it more cow bell.
  • Glad to see the OLPC project mooving on.
  • Its a match made in heaven!
  • Cow Solar Adapter (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Friday October 26, 2007 @12:04PM (#21129865) Homepage Journal
    The "cow power" is just solar power collected first by the grass (or whatever) the cow eats, then by the cow. By the time the cow pushes the dynamo, the efficiency of using the 1KW:m^2 that falls on the growing stuff is in the hundredths of a percent. Sunlight might not be "consistently strong", but it's evidently strong enough to grow whatever the cattle eat. What it needs is a battery, which the OLPC has.

    Instead of a dynamo of belts and pulleys, which requires a lot of maintenance and isn't portable (like many nomads and people who herd cattle), how about they work on fermenting that grass for fuelcells? The cattle won't have to work as hard, so they won't need as much grass, which extra grass can power the OLPC. The dynamos they're proposing must be supplied elsewhere anyway, even from Fiat taxis, so why not get fuelcells instead? And why not use the demand for them to grow local fuelcell production industries?

    And if fuelcells are too expensive or complicated, why not just some standard PV cells, feeding the OLPC batteries? A PV collector the size of a cattle pen could power several OLPCs.
  • At least make it goat powered -- goats are much more efficient in terms of providing human-like milk, lower fat meat, and a bit more compliant than the bovines to boot. Start by finding a smaller dynamo /battery combo and hook it up to a small treadmill. So that the user of the OLPC simply needs to walk for a short distance on the treadmill to really charge the battery? And perhaps include a small solar panel on the treadmill as a trickle charger?

    Something tells me that there are a lot more people and/or

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