Harvesting the Energy of Crowds
Wouldn't it be great to find a way to harness all the energy expended by those shopaholic consumers who spend most of their waking hours wandering our nation's malls? Think of how much energy could be generated — the day before Christmas alone would probably provide enough energy to power several thousand homes. Well, two graduate students at MIT's School of Architecture and Planning, James Graham and Thaddeus Jusczyk, may have found an ideal way to do just that.
Their "Crowd Farm" technology would harvest the energy of people walking or jumping in urban settings by converting their mechanical energy into a source of electricity. It would work something like this: a sub-flooring system made up of blocks that depress under the force of human steps would be installed beneath a specific setting, and the movement of the blocks against one another as people walked above would produce power by turning the energy of motion into an electric current. Needless to say, this piezo-electric (mechanical-to-electrical) device isn't meant to work in a home setting: a single human step can only generate enough power to keep two 60W bulbs lighted for one second. The intention would be to harness the energy produced by several tens of thousands of steps in a busy train station or shopping center.
Though it remains to be seen how well the "Crowd Farm" will work in practice (especially in a large setting where transducing all that energy of motion could become tricky), this is a great way to take advantage of a huge sum of energy that would otherwise go unused.