back to article MIT in Matrix 'Crowd Farm' plan

Two MIT students have won a cash prize and international kudos after developing a plan to generate energy using "Crowd Farms." James Graham and Thaddeus Jusczyk's scheme was judged the winner at the Holcim Forum 2007, focused on the theme of urban transformation and funded by the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction. …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Craig Leeds


    This was done a while ago by our little Japanese friends.

    God bless each and ever one of them.

  2. Michael Sheils

    Ah, this is the reason I keep coming back here

    At last, after weeks of absolute dross a good article turns up on here, making it feel like El Reg of old, well done.

  3. Craig Leeds


    IT'S PEOPLE!!!!


  4. Lloyd

    Power Stool???

    a stool with a flywheel in it - the mind boggles am I on the Viz site by mistake? I'm sure this is listed in the profanisaurus.

  5. Steve

    Space Cadets

    MIT eh ? Are they some of the finest minds on the planet, or a just a bunch of fecking wingnuts, I can never quite make up my mind.

    Charitably, lets say both :-)

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    obesity solved!

    I do not know why the complain....maybe this is the solution for all the modern obesity problem...we could do a "walk break" at work, contributig for a cleaner Earth and get fit at the same time!

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Power Stool"

    The name is the one thing they got right.

  8. Chris


    Probably need to take into account the energy gravity will deliver when it pulls the foot + body down to the floor. Not sure if that's sufficient to account for the difference, but it's a start. I mean, MIT = SMRT, right?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Evil Matrix

    >We suspect their research may have mainly consisted of watching The >Matrix, in which the evil machine civilisation somehow manages to wring >enormous amounts of power out of farmed humans in tanks.

    Really, evil, watch the Animatrix, then the Matrix trilogy.

    Survival is a better word.

    Strange that the Matrix can get more power from negative energy, ie hate.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The inventor of the Whoopee cushion has them beat

    Juvenile humor is at least as socially useful as four LEDs lighting, don't you think?

    The twenty-to-one best ratio of treaders to riders is curiously close to the ratio of Metro speed to walking speed--roughly 100 km/h to 5 km/h.

  11. Christopher

    Been done before..?

    Wasn't there a similar thing done last year or so, but with cars?

    I remember seeing videos and everything. Cars would drive over a some blocks, sunken into the road like a cattle grid, which would dip down, do some magic and generate current.

    Too lazy to locate the link though.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    If you made the rail sleepers work in the same way the train could power it's self (almost). Until someone wanted to get on or off.

  13. paul

    jesus wept!

    producing enough electricity to power a <insert punchline>

  14. Mike

    Power Stool

    I often get that after a night of drinking.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This would still work

    You spent most of the article saying how dumb of an idea that this is. It would not be the main power source for the train, just an aux. power source to save money. All of these people walking around the train station are just wasting their potentially untapped energy. Where if you installed these panels they could cut down the power bill of the train station by 5-15% (not accurate) And that is still free money right there. Now if they put these panels in like a baseball stadium or in a gym, where a lot of energy is not used by the facility. Then you could be paying the whole power bill and enough for the neighbors.

    Personally I think these 2 guys from MIT are geniuses. They have found a completely new untapped power source, which yes something as weird as a crowd farm, which makes so little amount of power. But it is just the tip of the iceberg! This could spark something even more revolutionary!

    Plus this could reduce pollution from fossil fuels and other power plants.

    So I think these guys need some support for their ideas rather then us making fun of them because we did not think of it first?

    (Sorry for spelling errors)

  16. Chris Fryer


    "One of the most efficient ways for human beings to generate power by muscular effort is on stationary pedal cycles"

    Why not cut out the middle man, and drop the "stationary" part? Apart from the energy used in the manufacture, assembly and initial transport of my bike, the only fuel it needs is Shreddies.

    While we're talking efficiencies, my journey to work on public transport (tube or bus) is guaranteed to take at least 45 minutes. If I hop on the trusty steed, it takes me 25 minutes.

    Unfortunately this kind of thinking doesn't win you any wanky architecture prizes. It might just lead to a sensible integrated transport policy, though.

  17. Hud Dunlap

    Wired magazine already showed something similar

    Wired magazine has a "pictures from the future" page. It showed people on the bikes at the Gym generating power with displays about how much was generated by each person.

    It would be more practicle to run the lights at the Gym this way.

  18. David C

    Human power farms

    Dear Sirs,

    I cannot believe these monkeys received a prize for it and they're in MIT too. Please see this paragraph from a 'paper' that I wrote once upon a time (in 1988) while working as a temp in British Gas before going to university. When my bosses saw me writing it, they fired me. If you want the full text, e-mail me on


    "I was thinking," said the Professor, "instead of trying to get electricity from raw materials, what about getting it from our own selves? Most people are fond of using electricity; why not make them produce it instead? Not everyone could be made to produce electricity. We would need a special type of person, just right for the job, and they would have to meet quite a few requirements: First, they would have to be strong, and also stupid.

    "I say strong, because obviously making electricity is going to require more effort than say, sitting in front of a TV screen (I was sure he had targeted this remark at me). They'd have to be pretty stupid, too, because if they were smart, they would rather sit in front of their TVs and use electricity than spend all their strength making it. They would also have to be willing. If you are to produce current from people, you need full commitment. Most people do not want to spend years making electricity day and night. They would much rather be making something else especially at night, hahaha. So you'd get sloppy work practices. What you need is someone reliable, strong, confident, motivated, and with the brains of a moron.

    "That's where the football hooligan comes in. He (or she) is the perfect example of what I shall call the dedicated electricity maker. And fortunately, in Schweinland, there are MANY football hooligans. Just take a look at the table on the blackboard.

    Type of person Brain cells Number available % of population

    Professor 10 billion 100,000 0.50

    Crazy Professor 12 billion 10,000 0.05

    Naive Secretary 1 million 5,000,000 10.00

    Boorish heckler 1 million 5,000,000 10.00

    Second rate yuppie 1 thousand 5,000,000 10.00

    Football hooligan Absolute 0 20,000,000 40.00

    Others Depends 15,000,000 30.00

    TOTAL Not enough A motley bunch 100.55%

    "So as you see," said the Professor, "many football hooligans more than enough, in fact, for most intents and purposes. Every Saturday, these hooligans go to their local football stadium. And every Saturday, they riot, beat each other up, damage trains, break windows, are rude to little old ladies, and ignore the zebra crossings.

    "Every Saturday, Sunday, and even some other days of the week, people, newspapers, etc. complain about the rioting. They say it is bad, a social disease; that it gives Schweinland a bad image, causes damage, stress and so on. They insist it should be stopped. But I, Professor Schweinstein, disagree. My argument is: Why?

    "Why get rid of something like that when you could make it work for you when you could be using these nice young men (and nice young women sometimes) to produce, yes, electricity? Yes, why? We must find a way to convert all this energy, which usually goes into ripping apart what's left of British Rail seat linings, into something which can be connected into the national grid.

    "My solution, ladies and gentlemen, is a revolutionary type of power plant. What would happen is this. All the football hooligans would be rounded up in a small enclosure, the walls of which will be absolutely plastered with very sensitive pistons, so each time a football hooligan (FH for short) goes crashing against the wall, the piston gets pushed in, drives a camshaft wheel which turns a dynamo to produce electricity. By placing rival groups of fans strategically around each other, as some football clubs are so fond of doing, the electric output will be greatly enhanced.I have calculated that if all 20,000,000 FHs are put in a room with pistons on all the walls, and provided with enough beer, you could get the equivalent of a small coal fired power station out of them. The same technique could be applied to any group of rioters. People who throw stones, for example. They could be rounded up, put in a room, with a large supply of stones, and ordered to throw them at the walls (which are covered in pistons, naturally). That would make more electricity. People who commit speeding offenses would also be put in such a room, this time with their car, and asked to crash drive against the walls at regular intervals to ensure a consistent electricity supply. If you also include in this scheme illegal parking offenders, graffiti artists and people who evade LRT fares, then you will soon have just about everybody in special rooms, producing electricity. And the nice thing about that is, that since there will be no one else left outside, there will not be any need for electricity. So even if the special power plants do not work, it won't matter in the least; what do you say about that? Genius, or what?"


  19. Andy Hards

    Come on . . . .

    It did say something about how using solar, wind and other types would be the future. It's not saying this would solve the energy problem but it could help produce some energy. If all the bikes and treadmills in all the gyms were hooked up it would produce a nice amount. If the block floor thing was installed at all the shopping malls and airports etc it would help. Just as in Israel everyone has solar panels on their roofs and the electricity goes back to the Nat grid when they ain't using it. It all helps. If we all recycled and composted our green waste it would help. Taking the piss doesn't.

  20. Chris Goodchild

    community service?

    The logical conclusion to this technology is to build large treadmills, or something like a big watermill wheel (or hamster) and to insert anyone who has been sentenced to community service. Then miscreants will be able to atone for their crimes by providing us with the power to send comments like this. And of course if the effort proves too much for them and they have a heart attack, there is always Soylent Green...

  21. Steve

    Supermarkets and braking

    I recall a news article somewhere saying that supermarkets were installing them to generate power from the delivery vehicles of suppliers - another way for them to rip off farmers I suppose, given that the energy has to come from the fuel of the vehicles in the first place.

    Yet again, imagine some form of slope approaching junctions or traffic lights, which serves to slow vehicles down and also generates power by getting 'squashed' down before the lights turn green - a bit like regenerative braking, except the power goes to the grid. But would it be more efficient to have a fixed slope which the cars/vans use to accelerate down to save fuel??

    My idea, no patent needed!

  22. Greg Nelson

    Economies Of Scale

    Economies of scale suggests the bigger the better over the long run. Generally costs which can be lessened by increasing the size of an enterprise are said to bring economies of scale. Bigger is better is the mantra of the dying business model driving western economies. Growth for the sake of growth is the cancer that drives profits and returns on investments. What the article speaks to and what has been nascent for more or less three decades is the implementation of micro systems for individual or community needs that replace or mitigate against the monolithic, big business models. The concepts, implementation and consequences are potentially revolutionary.

    In the 80s poor communities began to reinvigorate the idea of cooperative banking. Co-ops have been a mainstay of farmers and rural communities for ever and a day but the idea of bringing the infrastructure of a big bank to a community of poor people sharing the burden of providing savings and loans to the community speaks to a general micro revolution akin to that brought by the personal computer. Technology is often miniaturized and dispersed over time. What is becoming more apparent is the utilization of miniaturized technology in the face of a system that is deeply entrenched in the old monolithic, vertical systems of big business and big government. The problem will be one of devising mechanisms that see a fair integration of individual and community production into the grid that continues to manage the macro infrastructure and production calling for economies of scale.

  23. Daniel Ballado-Torres

    Gyro Gearloose already thought this!

    I remember vaguely reading a scheme like this one in a "Scrooge McDuck" comic book, years ago. I mean, like 14 years ago, or more! Except the scheme was based on the "impact" itself (foot stomping on ground) and placing tiles on sidewalks that turned the shock into useful energy. Seems the idea wasn't so wacky after all...

    Still, the scheme as shown at the moment depends basically on the tiles going up and down, up and down. What if they just stay down? One look at the Mexico City Metro and watching the 800+ dudes walking en masse to the platforms doesn't seem to have a wide enough gap for the tile to "go back up"... especially in really crowded stations like Hidalgo. If it *did* work as it is theorized, however, the 1400+ steppings a single tile might get every 1-2 minutes might be quite enough to power some of the trains ;)

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Practicality is absent from the curriculum

    I came up with better ideas for energy conservation and generation in grade school. It would seem that MIT avoids instruction of basic civil engineering principles.

    As a kid I thought the Flintstone mobile was cute idea, but I knew from push starting my VW bug it wasn't practical.

    They have got to start awarding 50% or more of the points for common sense.

  25. LaeMi Qian


    Wheelie luggage over moving blocks! FUN!

    And I can just see the uneven and slightly wobbly footing tripping people under trains!

    Just stick a big metal prong in the backs of our heads and be done with it!

  26. the Jim bloke

    I want a prize too

    My idea is to turn off the motors running the escalators in every major city's subway system, hook them up to generators instead, and let the mug commuters try to get up them by running fast enough to benefit from the resistance in the system. This would soon result in massive energy savings for the subway, as everyone would avoid using them.

    On a marginally more practical note, the moving floor blocks idea might be more useful in something like a nightclub, where people go to waste energy anyway. Combining alcohol, chemically diminished coordination and judgement, and unstable footing is asking for an injury - but so is simply turning up at some nightclubs.

  27. Jon Tocker


    Daniel Ballado-Torres and LaeMi Qian are on the ball and demolish the "this would still work" argument for good.

    We're talking Gods-know-how-many, moving tiles of an indeterminate size - too big, and they're going to be permanently jammed down by the sheer number of people crossing the space as Ballado-Torres pointed out; too small, well... imagine people treading on more than one tile, putting uneven force on them - toes being bent up or ankles twisted as one tile sinks faster than the other. Imagine women in stiletto heels toppling as a small part of the floor shifts under foot...

    And how far are these things supposed to shift? Do you really want your heel to drop 10-15cm (4-6") while the toe of your shoe remains at the default height? I'm assuming less than 10cm shift is not going to grab a lot of the power output of a human walking. Even a 5cm (2") drop is likely to make for tricky going.

    And, of course, if you don't lift your foot high enough when you step, you won't clear the surrounding raised tiles, resulting in a potentially hazardous trip (possibly fatal if near the top of some stairs or the edge of a railway platform).

    Then bear in mind that these things are mechanical and subject to wear - a LOT of wear, especially in extremely busy places, which means they are going to have to be taken out of service frequently and repaired or replaced - the electricity required to keep them maintained would probably outweigh anything produced from them (or were they planning on manufacturing and repairing them with hand tools?) never mind the hours of work for the service people (fixed sodding cobblestones and standard tiles are enough of a maintenance nightmare) and the inconvenience to pedestrians as there would always be repair/replacement going on at some section of the floor...

    So yeah, let's replace a cheap, easily maintained (relatively easily) and stable fixed floor with a treacherously shifting surface made up of expensive-to-produce (energy-wise as well as dollar-wise) objects and call it energy efficiency.

    I think, contrary to what some have posted, that Lewis was being overly charitable in the article - as the phrase "total drooling f***ing morons" is absent from the descriptions of the students and the cretins who gave them an award for the scheme.

    Spare us from those who live in bizarre fairylands where small efficient and indestructable micro-generators spontaneously materialise out of thin air!

    Those of us who live on planet Earth where things wear out and actually take energy, money and physical resources to produce will just have to come up with finding practical answers to the problems of energy demands rather than stealing large amounts of energy from location "A" to make it appear that location "B" is making a small saving...

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wow, and these guys are not even from the Media Lab...

    How long can MIT keep doing this and maintain any sort of public respect? Thanks Reg for calling them on their BS.

  29. Adrian Esdaile

    What a bunch of wucking fankers

    must... calm... down... don't... swear...

    So this is why current architecture grads are about a useful as middle-managers? (ie, no use at all, can't even make a good coffee)

    Hey, you pointy-heads a MIT - HERE'S A F&^#ING CLUE:

    Teach them to draw something that will stand up and not cause passers by to vomit and/or suffer brain aneurysms.

    Speaking as someone who has survived an Architecture degree, the best and first step would be to burn the tonnes and tonnes of shite that passes for architectural theory and criticism!

    Which gives me an idea! Burn it in furnaces that generate steam, but run the steam into a heating & watering system for lettuce! Then feed the lettuce to hamsters in rotationally-concentric-movement-nullification-enclosures (wheels) connected to rotational-energy-to-electrical-energy-converters (afore-mentioned "dy-na-mos") within a post-modern non-sequential state-qualia-defined wifi-matrix-connected collective-enviro-green-friendly-bio-cultural-gestalt!*

    Can I have my money & fame please? KTHNXBAI

    * - See? I bloody well DID study architecture! Spouting crap like that gets the marks, baby!

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Want me money

    I hope that they're going to pay me for my work and effort of generating electricity!

  31. S

    Cool Idea

    But somewhat impractical. But I suppose we will have to start making sacrifices as energy demands increase and supply tightens...i.e. wearing flat shoes whilst travelling! (No high heels!).

    Although I agree, cycling is the way forward - as for generation of power from gym bicycles and treadmills, I know the bikes at my local gym don't actually use any electricity - but the treadmills do (to provide incline, and I think they need energy for the actual belt to move round). It's a good idea though, the energy costs must be pretty high - given the air condition, lighting, televisions, speakers etc. they all have.

    The Wired article the first person linked suggested piezo-electric generators in pressure pads which didn't seem to need massive height differences either. It probably is possible without making it too much of a health and safety hazard.

  32. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    I'm with Jon Tocker

    And Daniel Ballado-Torres and LaeMi Qian. Such a scheme is totally unfeasible, technically speaking.

    And I am quite glad that this nonsense is being brought to light. I believe it is time to give MIT an Iggy award.

  33. Nexox Enigma


    These guys seem to be applying the laws of thermodynamics about as well as the damned creationists (or is that IDists now?)

    Energy doesn't get created - so moving floor tiles and stools (Mine moves very regularly, thanks) aren't magically capturing energy that would be 'lost', they're stealing energy from us. We'd have to eat more and get tired faster, not to mention all those great points about broken ankles.

    Generating energy from humans is anything but efficient, since we aren't really that efficient at energy conversion ourselves. You'd be better off burning the extra food that we'd require and turning a steam turbine or something with the heat you make. I forget exactly how efficient modern steam turbines can get, but I'd be shocked if it wasn't an order of magnitude better than the best possible estimates for human power generation.

  34. stuart meadowcroft


    Is everyone forgetting the principle of conservation of energy?

    Each person on this stupid bouncy floor would have to pick up their feet an extra couple of inches to 'step up' to the next paving stone, like climbing a slight incline, and would need to eat or drink the same amount of energy to replace that which is lost by the action of climbing around on a level surface.

    Isn't there already a shortage of food production land now that crops are being farmed for bio-fuels?

    I am of course ignoring the fact that the majority of people in the West are fat ba57rds who could use hooking up to a grid to electrically harvest their excess intake whilst they stick burgers and lager into their faces, but it's about the scientific principle.

  35. Dax Farrer

    SI ?


    How much electricity would you generate if you covered the Albert Hall with these things, and then filled said hall with people and made them jump up and down for an hour, you can see what Im getting at here, YES ! a standard measurement of work.

    "Cor thats a bloody great big fridge mate, how many Alberts does that require"

    or ...

    "Blimey the wifes rampant rabbit gets through 3 Alberts a night"

    ,... I'll get me coat .

  36. David S

    What Mr Tocker said.

    I have always considered the phrase "jaw-dropping" to be hyperbole until now. I read this article and discovered its true meaning. Jon Tocker has pretty much summed up the rational response from anyone who's ever heard of the laws of thermodynamics (particularly the first) except that his revised description of the various morons is still a touch charitable in my opinion. Especially for the feckwits who judged the competition.

    They should be condemned to build the prototype of their floor, and then use and maintain it for as long as it takes them to figure out everything which is wrong with their idea. They can make it whatever colour they like, though. I'm nothing if not fair.

  37. Dave Murray

    Waiting for a train

    I suspect the guys from MIT have never got a train in their lives. When waiting for a train I (and most people I see) are usually standing still or sitting down for most of the time which would create no energy at all by their scheme.

    I also wonder how wheelchair friendly those blocks moving up and down would be. Or how they plan to cope with people with other medical conditions that make it painful for them to walk far.

  38. Ian Ferguson

    Re: This would still work

    "All of these people walking around the train station are just wasting their potentially untapped energy"

    Not quite, sorry. Surprisingly, they are using energy to... walk! The purpose of walking is to move you along. Add a friction dynamo system - like a stepping machine at a gym - and you get the same energy output, but you won't go anywhere.

    All you'll end up with in reality is lots of sweaty commuters desperately pumping at the floor while moving very, very slowly towards the train, just as the doors close.

    This idea blatantly ignores the law of energy conservation - you can't get free energy from nothing. And saying that untapped, potential energy is 'wasted' is equally stupid - it's being stored, it's not leaking into the ground!

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Praise Be to the New religion of Climate Change

    To the "This May Work"-ists,

    Lets no question our belief with scientific rigour and instead rely on the fact that it is for the greater good of the mother earth. My wife unplugs the microwave in order to "Save power and stop EMF waves floating around" this after she spends 2 hours ironing the kids pyjamas etc. (and to be fair, my shirts).

    I think that the crystal waving, homeopathetic society need to starting doing their primaryschool maths and basic physics.

  40. dodge

    It's brilliant

    OK. So how about this... instead of mechanical linkages driving a dynamo (what kind of morons are these guys... do they have ANY idea how hard it would be to make an efficient design, let alone how expensive that would be to manufacture and maintain?), but let's rather posit a piezo-electric floor tile. No moving parts, and current generated is largely dependant on _pressure_, not mechanical movement.

    So that's a bit better, although the amount of current generated would be pretty negligable.

    But we're all trying to save the planet. Hordes of commuters marching up and down the platform would generate more than enough power to almost pay for the grouting between the tiles.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    perpetual stupidity

    So, I'll just dust off that old perpetual motion machine I designed in school & fit a sturdy pair of walking boots to it ... then, all I'll need is a large circular track made of these fantastic power panel thingies and I'll be a regular Monty Burns. Perhaps MIT can nominate one of these jerks to be my Smithers :-)

    release the hounds !!

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    MIT comedy awards

    I didn't know MIT were doing courses and prizes in comedy.

    You might as well have people walking on a bed of sand. To get any worthwhile energy out would require people walking with more effort than normally needed, so they are going to feel it.

    In fact why not a bed of sand, where the movement of sand operates some underfloor (under the sand) energy generation system. (*public domain* free to use, if you are crazy/evil enough)

    But wait I have a better idea, inspired by the power stool. Make people only eat foods which once digested and processed and dried create the ideal burnable waste, every time you flush you are providing for all our energy needs.

    Anyone who doesn't like this idea gets to live next door to the power plant. (*public domain* free to use, if you are crazy/evil enough)

  43. Ian Hunter

    An idea

    Power could be generated by obese people.

    Just think about it: you could hook their arms and jaws up to a generator. Everytime they take a bite of their 20" super sized pizza, the motion of arm to mouth would produce an electric current.

    When they start whinging that their weight is all genetic, and nothing to do with eating 10,000 calories per day, that will also generate power.


  44. Acidbass

    Effect on crowd psychology

    Asssuming this was practical and got implemented, the effects on crowd dynamics would be interesting. You'd get the drive-to-work-watch-telly-all-night people actively avoiding the piezo-tiles, because it would 'tire them out', and the people who quite rightly object to not being reimbursed for their increased energy expenditure would start using snow shoes or something, ideally with adblockers in them, and then the lentil-welders with organic children will be getting them to run around on the tiles all day in an effort to get them to sleep that night.

    You can imagine that, if this stuff was installed in certain areas (let's say the concourse of a large train station) there'd be whole swathes of the crowd moving to the edges to try and walk along the easier paths, or taking some tortuous back route across the tracks, indian style, and also the power walkers (those ppl who run up the stairs in between the escalators and get to the top faster and with an increased feeling of self-satisfaction) would be surging through the tiled area - "makes you tired? don't know what you mean, it's invigorating".

    Reminds me of the simpsons episode where homer renames himself max power and chains himself to a tree, and some steve jobsalike rides in on an eco-scooter "powered only by my sense of self-satisfaction".

    It's been said above. Ride to work. It's not going to win any prizes for novelty but if we all did it then the greatest inhibitor to riding to work would be eliminated, that being the (sizable) proportion of drivers who have no road-sense whatsoever.

  45. Gilbert Wham

    Why not?

    Install Pelton wheels in all urinals? Hook 'em up to dynamos and away you go. You'd want to enclose them, of course. wouldn't want any backsplash.

  46. dodge

    The Telegraph bought it

    Oh lord, how do you get to become science editor of the Telegraph? By being a credulous imbecile?

    They demonstrate a proof of concept where a stool lights up some LEDs when you sit on it. Oh wow... that's going to certainly solve the energy crisis in mass transportation!

    Roger Highfield, Science Editor, well done for being as gullible as all getout, and for not checking your facts, like how much energy a human actually generates when walking. 60W indeed.

    Bunch of drooling imbeciles.

  47. david wilson

    Traffic-based power generation

    There was a story last year about some supposed power-from-traffic humps in roads, but the company website mysteriously vanished once people started asking questions (or once they'd fleeced enough gullible investors).

    The more recent 'supermarket depot' story was:

    which was seemingly swallowed without coughing from the press release:

    >>"A single lorry running over the DPS can produce approximately 3.3Kwh, and based on the number of vehicles entering and leaving the Northampton depot, this will help generate enough power to boil 5.7 million kettles or light 10,000 light bulbs a year"

    >>"The system has been designed for use in areas where vehicles will be moving at slow speed or coming to a full stop."

    Indeed. My rough calculations would suggest a 3.3kWh (12MJ) removal of energy would be enough to stop a 40-tonner from 55mph.

    >>"Notes to editor's:

    * The Dragon Power System has been designed and developed by Alternative Energy Source Technologies (AEST), a US based company specialising in the field of alternative energy."

    Oddly, the AEST/Dragon Power Station website ( now seems to be unavailable. I wonder why?

  48. Bill Fresher


    Ahhh, MIT. Having had the (mis)fortune of working with many MIT graduates I've discovered that rather than being taught good science they appear to get taught to believe (fanatically) in their ideas under the delusion that an education anywhere else than MIT is inferior. Idiots.

  49. cor

    E=mc2 anyone?

    Oh, dear. Does anyone realise that the energy transferred by the tiles being pushed will be negated by the energy spent pushing the tile up + the person having to "lift" themselves out of the "hole" by the same distance it has sunken.??

    Energy cannot be created nor destroyed, said some guy from Austria with woolly white hair.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    To all the It-could-never-work-ists

    The moving floor panels may be a dumb idea but there really is such a thing as 'untapped energy'. Saying that such a thing violates the laws of thermodynamics is idiotic. I sit and spin on my swivel chair - energy wasted. Stick a dynamo in it and we've tapped an energy source.

  51. dodge

    "Untapped" /= "free"

    @"To all the It-could-never-work-ists" --- sorry, you've got it hopelessly wrong.

    You spin on your chair, and once you're moving you keep moving, using negligable energy, apart from slight friction losses. Hook yourself up to a dynamo and you'll find you slow down fairly quickly.

    If you want to take energy out of a dynamo, you have to put energy _in_ to the dynamo. Which means putting your feet on the ground and kicking. What, you think power stations burn all that coal and gas and uranium when they could just take some spinning office chairs and hook them up to the units?

    And @E=MC2, that equation defines the relationship between mass and energy, it's got nothing to do with the "First Law of Thermodynamics" (matter can't be created or destroyed, it can only convert from one form to another), which was elucidated a hundred years earlier than our woolly-pated Austrian.

    The problem is not that the idea won't work -- it could. It is absolutely true that people stepping on tiles that sink could generate power. The problem is that the ideal is unworkable on a practical level, and to such a degree that it suggests the two MIT rocket scientists are about as ignorant of physics and engineering (and basic common sense) as a 3-year old child.

  52. Chris Taylor

    Revised version

    Given the world wide web bloggery and general rubbish spouted on the internet, could these boys be persuaded to turn the estimable talents to the humble computer keyboard.

    Some sort of energy reclaimation from every key depression and the computer could become energy independant from the grid.

    This must be a winner ? Do I win £10 ?

  53. Matt Bucknall


    Nobody is suggesting 'free energy' here. The tile extracts energy from a person treading on it and indeed the person does then have to expel energy to lift away from the tile. End result, tile system generates small amount of current and human uses up more energy than they would on a normal floor.

    No energy being created nor destroyed there.

    The thing that annoys me is, there are so many gimmicky ideas when it comes to tapping energy sources and saving the environment etc. etc. There are so many common sense solutions that seem to go ignored.. Just turning off a light-bulb when you're not in the room, or washing your clothes at 30 degrees instead of 40.. putting a jumper on instead of turning the heating up. None of this is expensive, it doesn't take a load of man-hours over at MIT or anywhere else... if everybody used energy sensibly, even without inconveniencing themselves much, it would make a world of difference.


  54. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    You know, I really wasn't going to respond, because it seems gauche for some reason, but I can't help myself. And honestly, the article is quite funny and well-written, and would be even funnier if it wasn't about us. Nevertheless.

    Let me quickly make a couple of points that might somewhat mitigate some of the more strongly-held opinions here.

    First, we're not proposing to run everybody's trains. Our numbers are intended to provide a sense of scale, a reference. You can say that the moon is X football fields away without implying that you're getting ready to walk there. We're trying to put things in context, not make false promises. (Having no control over what's being written has led to some misunderstandings; we're easily contactable and would generally be quite happy to discuss our proposal.)

    Secondly, if you feel a concrete floor quiver, you know that there's energy being dissipated through it. That energy-- however slight-- intrigues us. If you wear athletic shoes, you know that they're spongy on the bottom to help dampen your impact. It compresses... what... maybe half an inch? There's a threshold of comfort somewhere between sand and perfect hardness that suits the human foot. That's what we're aiming for.

    Let me paint a little vignette. It's a fairly long staircase that gets crowded. We all know that you've got a lot of potential energy at the top and a good bit less at the bottom. Where did it go? Well, it was absorbed into the structure of the stairs-- every footfall, as we all know, has an equal and opposite reaction. It's that "equal and opposite reaction" that we're interested in here, and in this case, there's no reason it couldn't be harnessed without making the stairs substantially more difficult to walk down. All those feet hammering away on a staircase can make something.

    The idea that people could be made visibly aware of that wasted energy is interesting to us, as architects, even if it isn't a monumental amount.

    Imagine, say, an LED net above you that's lighting the stairs in a way that specifically responds to where you (and the rest of the crowd) are. Maybe you'd find it interesting, maybe you'd find it boring, but I hope you'll agree that it is at least plausible. The degree to which our project and its relatively modest experiments have captured people's fancies seems to indicate that we're not alone in desiring some tangible index of our own spent energy.

    These things will start showing up-- no, they already have-- first as experimental installations and maybe later as actual building systems in appropriate places. Is there a material cost? Of course. Will the technology be extremely cumbersome at first? Naturally. Is it the answer to our dependency on fossil fuels? Goodness no. But that doesn't mean that people shouldn't take a stab at developing it. This is a broader discourse that we're just participants in, and there's no reason the results can't be fruitful.


    a crowd farmer

  55. david wilson


    >>"Let me paint a little vignette. It's a fairly long staircase that gets crowded. We all know that you've got a lot of potential energy at the top and a good bit less at the bottom. Where did it go? Well, it was absorbed into the structure of the stairs-- every footfall, as we all know, has an equal and opposite reaction. It's that "equal and opposite reaction" that we're interested in here, and in this case, there's no reason it couldn't be harnessed without making the stairs substantially more difficult to walk down. All those feet hammering away on a staircase can make something."

    If you imagine someone walking down an averagely rigid set of stairs, with minimal deflection per tread, and most of that deflection being elastic, the energy absorbed by the stairs is the small nonelastic fraction of force*distance, but the distance is the deflection (near zero), and the force is still only something of the order of the person's bodyweight - shock absorption is provided by the mechanics of the legs, and maybe footwear. Energy absorption in the stairs is a miniscule fraction of the walker's potential energy loss, almost all the energy goes into heat, etc in the person.

    I wouldn't be surprised if the stairs' energy absorption was some small fraction of a percent

    From the person's point of view, they do move their mass through a distance going down the stairs, but all the stairs see are a series of pressure events on the treads, where in each case, pressure builds to a peak and then decays away. For the stairs, there may not even be a great difference between someone climbing and descending except for the order of tread-events.

    What I'd want first and foremost out of stairs would be predictability.

    I don't want my bit of the tread, which could be anywhere on the tread, to move at all in response to someone walking down beside me on the crowded staircase and stepping anywhere else on the same tread, so any energy absorption mechanism needs to act like multiple independent mechanisms.

    I don't want stairs where the response of each tread could vary from the last depending on whether a mechanism was broken or some detritus was stopping it moving, maybe only to free itself at just the wrong moment.

    >>"Imagine, say, an LED net above you that's lighting the stairs in a way that specifically responds to where you (and the rest of the crowd) are. Maybe you'd find it interesting, maybe you'd find it boring, but I hope you'll agree that it is at least plausible."

    Maybe I'd just be looking where I was walking or running, and not want the lighting pattern to change.

  56. Chris Fryer

    Re: well...

    @ crowd farmer

    "We all know that you've got a lot of potential energy at the top and a good bit less at the bottom"

    Seems to me this is where you got yourself in this particular pickle. The potential energy at the top of the staircase has been converted into, among other things, the kinetic energy used in getting to the bottom.

    Let's rid ourselves of the inconvenient encumbrance of the staircase for the purposes of a thought experiment. You could use the potential energy of an individual at street level by putting them in a basket. This basket could be attached to a rope, with a pulley driving a flywheel. As the person descends to platform level, the flywheel drives a dynamo that powers the lights. That might be fun.

    But then you have two problems:

    - No way to get the basket back to the top, and

    - A platform full of people who are trying to get out of the station.

    Unless, of course, you decide to expend some energy getting the basket and the passengers back to street level.

    Like lunch, there's no such thing as free energy, it seems.

  57. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    a real waste of money indeed

    they might as well build a farm of eels in wire mesh cages in a large conductive fish tank, after all those things seem to have plenty of energy to spare on stunning larger prey.

  58. MTT

    I'm from MIT

    first off, these guys probably were in it simply for the money. I hate to say it, but architecture students do get the shaft on stipends, so I wouldn't be surprised to find that they did this to pay their rent.

    second: Energy reclamation is a field with huge promise, but this particular approach has pretty much been abandoned across the board. You just can't harvest enough energy to make it worth the effort, there is no great storage paradigm, and people are definitely able to sense the mechanistic aspect in the form of "drag" as they walk/move (think walking on a very sandy beach.)


    BILL FRESHER you are a f-king moron. I've been at several institutes/universities in my time, and I can say without reservation that the scientists and engineers that work and graduate from MIT are on average the best in the world. You may be confusing "fanaticism" with a persistence when one *actually knows* what the hell they are talking about. Which most engineers from more relaxed environments are never forced to do ... actually learn first principles.

This topic is closed for new posts.