Backpack Generator Harnesses Power Of Walking

A backpack generator designed by Lawrence Rome and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania is able to convert the vigorous strides of hikers into more than 7 watts of usable power. That's enough for emergency workers to power a GPS locator and a head-lamp indefinitely.


(Backpack Generator worn by Lawrence Rome)

The pack is spring-loaded, and mounted on rails to slide up and down as the wearer strides along. This motion moves a toothed rod, which meshes with a gearwheel, which turns to generate electricity. As you might guess, the heavier the load, the more power is generated - but the harder it is too walk. However, research showed [I just love that whole "reality-based" approach] that wearers alter their gait to walk more efficiently when wearing the sliding pack.


(Lawrence Rome Backpack Generator Diagram)

My first introduction to the idea of generating power from ordinary human motions was in Dune, the classic sf novel by Frank Herbert. In the novel, he writes about stillsuits that utilize the power of human locomotion. Stillsuits are used to capture and recycle human perspiration on a planet almost devoid of surface water:

Perspiration passes through it, having cooled the body. Motions of the body, especially breathing, and some osmotic action provide the pumping force. With a Fremen suit in good working order, you won't lose more than a thimbleful of moisture a day - even if you're caught in the Great Erg. (Read more about Frank Herbert's stillsuit)

I wonder if Lawrence considered tightening the harness just a bit, to take advantage of the chest expansion and compression?

Read more about the backpack generator. Also, take a look in the comments for this story to see a nineteenth century example of harnessing natural body motions (can you think of an earlier one?)

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 9/10/2005)

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