ROCK DOC - Stepping in light? – Fantastic

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At first I wasn't sure I was reading the CNN report correctly. The story hinged on special pavement that uses the impact of human feet to generate electricity.

That's right. A young man in Britain has invented a device that harvests the energy from a footfall hitting the pavement to power things like LED lights.

Talk about a bright idea.

The PaveGen project is the brainchild of Laurence Kemball-Cook. He's a 25-year-old engineer who built a prototype of the device during his last year in school and is now working to make and market it.

The PaveGen tiles work because they have a bit of give in them. When you step on one, it's depressed a bit by your weight. That motion can be used to generate a measurable bit of electricity. If the tiles are in an area of heavy foot traffic - like stairs down to a subway station - they can make enough electricity for useful applications.

Using human muscle to generate electricity is not completely new. I've seen students in teaching demonstrations pedaling hard on stationary bikes to light up a relatively low-watt bulb.

But walking is one of the most efficient things we humans can do. And by stepping on Kemball-Cook's paver, a person exerts considerable downward force. Each step generates enough juice to power an LED bulb for 30 seconds. The device can be linked to a battery to even out the flow.

Kemball-Cook had a second bright idea as he designed his device. In addition to contributing electric power to devices, he engineered the tiles to retain 5 percent of their oomph, used to light up an LED bulb in the paver itself. This gives positive feedback that people are really making electricity as they walk across the pavement.

Some 20 of the tiles will be installed around London's Olympic Stadium where foot-traffic is going to be high.

The pavers have already been tested at a school in southeast Britain.

Kemball-Cook said that "1,100 kids have devoted their lives to stamping all over them for the last eight months."

On a shorter-term test, Kemball-Cook says he took the pavers to an outdoor festival where 250,000 footsteps created enough juice to charge 10,000 cellphones.

The pavers are a bit like social media, harnessing the individual contribution of many people in ways that generate value. That's part of the appeal of the devices.

Time will tell if this idea has legs. But I for one am rooting it does. And I'm glad to note some members of the next generation are thinking outside the box and creating some delightful devices.

E. Kirsten Peters, Ph.D., is a rural Northwest native whose column is a service Washington State University. Follow her at rockdoc.wsu.edu

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