Magazine article The Futurist

The Energy of the Mob: Two Architects Seek to Convert Pedestrian Movements into Electricity

Magazine article The Futurist

The Energy of the Mob: Two Architects Seek to Convert Pedestrian Movements into Electricity

Article excerpt

As anyone who has ever lived in one will tell you, the population of a large city is a life-form unto itself. It jostles and shifts, moves quickly at times--such as during the morning rush hour--and slower at other times--like the middle of the night or the height of a hot afternoon. From the vantage of the street, the movement of the urban mob can feel chaotic and even frightening; but looked at from above, it has its own order, logic, and patterns of behavior.

Now, two students at MIT's School of Architecture are attempting to capture the untamed energy of urban crowds and convert it into a source of electrical power. James Graham and Thaddeus Jusczyk call their project a "crowd farm." It's a series of connected floor blocks that depress very slightly when people walk, run, or jump on them, causing the blocks to move against one another. The design converts this "slippage" into power.

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The energy yield isn't much, according to the designers: A single human step can power two 60W light bulbs for less than a second. However, a crowd of 30,000 moving to and fro could create enough electricity to power larger electrical systems, or possibly bring a subway train stuck in a tunnel during a blackout safely to the platform. The design could also come into play at large outdoor gatherings like rock concerts, where the movement of the crowd, converted into power, could be fed back into special amplifiers to make the music louder.

Graham credits the 2003 New York City blackout--which forced millions of New Yorkers out of their apartments to wander the streets in the sweltering heat--for inspiring him to begin work on pedestrian power. …

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