A pair of graduate students at MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning have ambitions to generate energy from everyday human movements in urban settings. James Graham and Jusczyk call the project “Crowd Farm,” which would convert some of the mechanical energy of walking or jumping people into electricity in such places as malls, concerts, and train stations.
“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. 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. The Crowd Farm is not intended for home use. According to Graham and Jusczyk, a single human step can only power two 60W light bulbs for one flickering second. But get a crowd in motion, multiply that single step by 28,527 steps, for example, and the result is enough energy to power a moving train for one second.”
The duo first tested the concept at a train station in Torino, Italy, where they set up a prototype stool that exploits the act of sitting to generate power. Inspiration for the ingenious idea comes partly from Thomas Edison, who had a turnstile at his house that when activated pumped water into his holding tank. At first the amount of energy produced might not seem like much, but remember, being able to power a train for just a second for every second is pretty actually pretty good. Still, the cost of building such a system costs a fortune, at least for now. As Graham says, “Only through experimentation - which can be expensive - do technologies become practical.”