Turning footsteps into energy: industrial designer Laurence Kemball-Cook developed Pavegen, whose smart floor tiles convert kinetic energy into electricity with potential applications that could even extend to the automotive world.
When Laurence Kemball-Cook founded Pavegen in 2009 he based it on the “gamification of life” principle – motivating people to change through rewards and immediate feedback, and making abstract values tangible in order to build awareness of resources and individual responsibility. All, however, in a playful way.
“Wind and solar energy are not suitable for powering the systems in a large citiy reliably long-term. Urban canyons are shady and buildings block the wind,” explains Kemball-Cook, who holds a degree in industrial design. “Tube stations at rush hour are like beehives, buzzing with human activity and energy. What if you could harness that energy and transform it?”
This was the idea behind Pavegen, a smart floor tile that converts the kinetic energy from footsteps into electricity and data: pressure exerted on the surface sets three coils in motion, which generate about five watts of electricity per step.
The project really took off in 2016 when the team of engineers led by Kemball-Cook developed a new version of the floor tile: a three-sided model with a wheel in each corner generating up to 200 times more electricity than the initial prototype.
Considering its practical applications in shopping centres, airports and pedestrian zones, the triangular model also means less wasted space – that’s because the individual tiles mesh together with no gaps using a click system that’s easier and less expensive to maintain and comes with a 20-year guarantee.
Bird Street, just off Oxford Street with its continuous bustle of foot traffic, is the first smart street in London. Here, in 2017, pedestrians were able to generate energy for street lighting, sounds and data collection. Pavegen has also been installed near the White House in Washington, D. C. and, in 2018, in a shopping mall on the outskirts of London.
The first public installations were conducted as shows or as PR stunts. They included placing a layer under soccer turf in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas so that players could operate the floodlights themselves — though the lights still required a boost from solar panels on the surrounding buildings’ roofs.
In 2018 Kemball-Cook signed a partnership with technology giant Siemens in an effort to further expand the company’s global footprint. The collaboration will help Pavegen target airports and hospitals. “Some day, we hope to offer Pavegen for the same price as regular flooring”, Kemball-Cook says. “Pavegen was well accepted from the outset, because seeing the immediate results of your actions is fun – you take a step, a light goes on”.
But that’s not all. If you walk along surfaces where the technology is installed, you can decide via an app where the energy you are generating goes – lighting up the facade of your favourite café, for example, or donating the power to a good cause. “Using a permission-based system to reward people for their footsteps is our goal over the coming months”, says Kemball-Cook.
The Pavegen system contains low-power Bluetooth beacons, which transmit data about movement patterns, providing information on peak times for foot traffic and consumer behaviour. A possible next step could be the automotive world. Theoretically, vehicles could use the same principle as pedestrians to generate a great deal more energy with the pressure they create when they stop on the road surface. Pavegen is currently installed in more than 200 sites across 30 countries.
Source: AUDI AG