Space & Innovation

Each Step on Smart Hallway Helps Power School

These students' footsteps are keeping the lights on at their school.

They might look a little like Hogwarts students, but the boys at Simon Langton Grammar School in Canterbury don't need magic to generate enough electricity to turn on the hallway lights. Instead, their footsteps landing on energy-harvesting tiles can do the trick.

The tiles lining a long hallway at this U.K. school came from the London-based company Pavegen Systems, which specializes in technology that converts energy from footfalls into electricity. The tiles went down at the school in September for the company's largest education sector installation to date, according to its case study.

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You might remember Pavegen from their rubber tile installation at the Paris Marathon finish line last spring, which I wrote about right before the Boston Marathon took place. Since then, the company has found a warm reception in a dozen schools, where students relish the chance to stomp around and instructors can use the tiles as a teaching opportunity.

When the boys at Simon Langton walk on the tiles, their footsteps prompt energy data to be displayed back to them in real time on an LED screen, and they can also use that energy generated to power their own projects and charge devices, Sydney Brownstone reported for Co.Exist. They'd have to do a lot of walking first, though.

The main limitation to Pavegen's technology is that it generates only a few watts per footstep, depending on how hard someone is walking. That translates to about 30 seconds of light for a streetlamp with an LED, Brownstone pointed out.

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Next, the company is planning to install the tiles this month at a private prep school in New Jersey. Pavegen inventor Laurence Kemball-Cook also told Co.Exist that they want to bring the price per tile down in cost so it's as affordable as linoleum. Last year the tiles were running about $76 apiece.

Despite the challenges, I still like the micro-power idea behind Pavegen and applaud the way the displays show what's going on as people cross the tiles. That visualization is what sticks with students. When the hallway lights tied to the tiles in the school dim, it's time to get stomping again. And if that fails, maybe try "lumos!"

Photo: Students at the Simon Langton School for boys in the UK walk on energy-harvesting tiles. Credit: Pavegen.

This week, we have a village and a truck carved from ice, a Gecko-inspired robot and a solar-powered car from Ford, to name a few.

It's cold in Northern China, but the 2014 Harbin Ice and Snow Festival heats up the night with its spectacular sculptures, winter games and ice village lit by colorful LEDs. The festival takes place on the grounds of a 124-acre park and features skating rinks, mazes and a 787-foot-long ice slide. What a wonderful way to brighten up a long, dark winter.

Jan. 1 marked the start of the 2014 Federal phase-out of 40W and 60W incandescent bulbs. To help fill the gap, Philips has introduced SlimStyle, a flat A19 LED light bulb that generates the brightness and warm glow of a 60W incandescent, but doesn't come with the typical steep LED price. It's currently selling at Home Depot for $9.97.

No More Woof is a headset that, according to Tomas Mazzetti of the Nordic Society for Invention and Discovery, translates a dog's thoughts into speech. The EEG headset measures brainwave activity and converts three baseline readings -- sleepiness, agitation, and curiosity -- into words humans can understand. Now if you can just get your dog to keep the headset on instead of chewing it, we'll be good to go.

A proposal in London means to get cyclists up off the streets. The elevated SkyCycle -- from the architectural firms Foster + Partners, Exterior Architecture, and the urban planning consulting group Space Syntax -- calls for more than 136 miles of lanes built above suburban railway lines. This new bike highway could handle 12,000 cyclists an hour and slice nearly half an hour off regular commute times.

Artists from the sculpting house of Iceculture, along with gearheads from Canadian Tire, teamed up to make this ice truck. They started with a 2005 Chevy Silverado 2500 HD frame, then added 11,000 pounds of ice and special engine fans to blow hot air away from the frozen cab. The ice truck was built as a promotional stunt for a Canadian Tire and in fact, three trucks were actually built: one as a prototype, one for advertising clients and the third for the commercials. No seat warmers in this vehicle.

Abigaille is a tiny-legged prototype robot inspired by Gecko lizards that are able to walk up any surface. Developed by the European Space Agency, the robot is being designed to crawl along the hulls of spacecraft, cleaning and maintaining them. So far, it can transition from vertical to horizontal surfaces in the vacuum conditions of space. Next on the agenda: zero gravity.

Ford is exploring solar charging with its concept car, the C-Max Solar Energi. Solar panels on the roof work in combination with a parking structure (not shown) equipped with solar concentrators. The concentrators magnify the sun's rays by a factor of eight and direct them onto the car's roof-mounted solar panels. The cells gather enough light during a day's charging for a full battery top-up, or 21 miles of EPA-rated electric range. It's a prototype and so the hope is that future versions will generate more energy.

LEGO has come out with its own version of NASA’s Curiosity Rover currently roving the Red Planet. For just $29.95, rover fans can own a scaled-down version of the 10-foot Curiosity, which cost NASA $2.5 billion. LEGO's 295-piece vehicle has many of the same features as the real thing, including a "rocker-bogie" suspension for the six wheels, an articulated arm and various antennae.

New York City’s bike-sharing program, Citi Bike, launched a campaign to help power the New Year's Eve Times Square Ball. The organization set up six stationery bikes at the corner of 42nd Street and 7th Avenue and gave tourists and residents alike the chance to turn the kinetic energy of pedaling into electricity used to illuminate the ball.

A recently launched Kickstarter campaign could make transparent tablets a reality. The so-called Grippity, which could be available by the fall if money is raised, features a semi-transparent 7-inch 800 x 480 display. Two-sided touch controls would give users multi-touch access from both sides of the tablet. Developer Jacob Eichbaum said that typing and touching from the back panel rather than the front would prevent users from obscuring the display with their fingers. $235 will get you a tablet by Oct. 24 or pre-order one for $159.