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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Making electricity by simply walking

For most people, the word farm conjures up images of dairy cows out to pasture, or amber waves of grain. But for two Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate students, the term could apply just as well to the herds of people trudging through South Station or flooding the gates at Fenway Park.

The force of those feet striking the floor generates energy that - theoretically, at least - could be harvested and converted into electricity. What is a farm, after all, but a place to collect the resources people need - milk, wheat or even power?

Enter the Crowd Farm, the proposal by architecture students James Graham and Thaddeus Jusczyk to generate electricity by capturing the energy people create in such simple motions as walking, running or jumping. They envision a future city in which the crowds streaming through subway stations, sporting venues and tourist destinations produce energy for harvest.

The broad concept, called "energy harvesting," has been in development for at least 10 years, driven initially by the military's need for a lightweight, portable means of recharging communication devices and other electrical gear. On a smaller scale, many urban bikers, for example, pedal their way to a well-lighted ride with bicycle-powered headlights. An electricity-generating backpack powers such devices as cellphones and MP3 players. A design firm in the United Kingdom is even testing a floor that generates electricity from the motion of a pedestrian's heel strike.

If implemented at a busy train depot like Victoria station, commuters' feet could generate enough electricity to power 6,500 light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.

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