In other news today, scientists have recently discovered that the unique vibrations of anthracite can cure arthritis, magnets can increase your fuel economy, and Bigfoot recently got engaged to a trans-phobic badger named Lucille. Grainy film at 11.

Yes, the world is full of fantastic claims and mythical inventions. Seems like everybody’s got that next great world-changing idea — or at least has an uncle who knows somebody who once saw a 200 mpg carburetor. In a world where no wolf goes un-cried, it’s easy to get caught up in cynicism when someone releases a video of something that seems too good to be true, because it usually is. But sometimes, the unbelievably great is unbelievable simply because it is that great. It does happen from time to time. Unique solutions always seem weird at first; someone probably would have thought the same of solar cells 120 years ago. And yet, here they are, seemingly powering everyone but the United States.

So, is Pavegen the next big thing, or the next magic magnet bracelet? Hard to say — but it’s definitely cool enough to warrant a look. And nobody wants to be that doofus who said solar cells would never take off.

Continue reading for the full story.

Why it matters

In this video, we see a demonstration of the latest — err, only — product from a London-based tech startup called Pavegen. Essentially, they’re tiles that convert human walking power into electricity, which can be used to do things electricity does. Like charge a Tesla. Using a combination of recycled rubber truck tires, copper coils, magnets, peizoelectrics and witchcraft, the Pavegen tiles generate a not-insignificant 7 watts of power every time a person steps on one.

Essentially, they're tiles that convert human walking power into electricity, which can be used to do things electricity does. Like charge a Tesla.

Largely publicly funded, Pavegen made news back during the 2012 Olympic games, when it installed a set of its power-generating tiles in London’s West Ham Station. The next year, they used a set of tiles to harvest energy from runners in the Paris Marathon. And most recently, they set up tiles on a soccer field in Rio de Janeiro that collected energy from players during the day, and used it to power lights at night.

This video is set outside of Pavegen’s Paris office, and shows one possible application for the technology. Obviously, the video’s a bit edited for effect, but there’s no reason it couldn’t work just like this in the real word.

But that’s just one tile. Imagine scores of the things, on every one of the building’s steps, all through a busy public square, in shopping malls, on sidewalks, harnessing 7 watts every time a person set foot on the ground. Presumably, it would work about as well with us Americans, who have long since given up walking in favor of Jazzy scooters. And actually, not to put too fine a point on it, but a system like this could work especially well here. That 7 watt figure is actually an average based upon the weight and speed of the person stepping on the tile. The number goes up if you start looking at joggers, power walkers, or Americans. Who (according to popular opinion) are not generally small people.

And, in point of fact — that thing about the Jazzy scooters wasn’t entirely a joke, either. Weight times speed (squared) equals watts. Bet you could power an entire Wal-Mart using nothing but its standard customers.


Obviously, cost per tile is a potential drawback. And they are mechanical systems, so wear and tear would be a factor. Pavegen’s been understandably secretive about how the tiles actually work, so there’s no way to assess them from a reliability standpoint right now.

If we just decide to take the "Everything is Awesome" approach to optimism, this could be a game-changer in terms of power generation.

But, if we just decide to take the "Everything is Awesome" approach to optimism, this could be a game-changer in terms of power generation. Think about a really busy intersection like Times Square, which sees 350,000 people a day; say every one of them walks a hundred steps across the square.

That’s roughly 245 million — that’s MILLION — watts of power generated in 24 hours. And this is from one intersection in one city in one country. Imagine the potential. Especially considering the fact that unlike most powerplants, Pavegen tiles are completely mobile.

If you wanted to, you could put them down around major sports arenas during events, and move them to the next day to a local shopping mall or airport. Or, if you’re the Rolling Stones, Metallica or the popstar of the week, you could take them with you from venue to venue. All right, that might not be entirely practical. But you get the idea — there’s a ton of versatility and a lot of potential here.

This much is also worth mentioning: The tiles compress by 0.2 inch every time they’re stepped on. That might seem slightly annoying at first — but tiles that compress lessen the impact force of the person walking on them, which lessens forces on the joints and feet. It’s like the difference between walking barefoot on concrete and soft grass. Between that and the tiles’ rubber pad construction, it’s easy to imagine how they’d actually make walking more comfortable and less stressful. That’s good for us, good for our joints and feet, and good for encouraging people to walk more. Might help some of us to be less... aahhh ..."American sized."


So, are Pavegen tiles the next solar cells, or the next magic magnets? It’s really hard to say. Without more information, it’s impossible to perform any kind of cost-benefit analysis right now. The potential benefits (both direct and ancillary) do seem fantastically impressive, and there’s no real reason to think a system like this wouldn’t work. At this point, it’s mostly a matter of analyzing the costs, and seeing how everything balances out.

Lucille might never let Sasquatch step foot out of the house — but here’s hoping we see some forward progress by way of our own big feet.

What do you think?
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