Free (harvested) energy

As a Physics student, I have to prepare a seminar for my classmates regarding some topic broadly connected with Physics. I chose Energy harvesting, as suggested by a professor, without knowing much about the field or the commercial offerings. However, aften collecting many sources and writing the article, I have come to have a much better opinion of our future than before. Namely, I discovered things like this:

Solar backpacks

English: Voltaic Systems Backpack

Voltaic Systems solar backpack

I want one and will probably buy one sometime this year. Part of the reason being the new smartphone lasts less than a day when mobile internet is active, but for the most part these things are just awesome. At $200 they cost about twice as much a comparable backpacs without the solar cells, which still falls into the range of a heavy backpack user like me. The more powerful models can also recharge your laptop battery, making them ideal for laptop-lugging outgoers.

Providers: Voltaic Systems, Eclipse Solar Gear

Building automation

This is more of a long-term goal, as I don’t plan to have a house of my own any time soon, but that doesn’t make it any less appealing. Having your lights, heating, ventilation and AC automated, as well as controllable from anywhere, is not only very convenient, but often energy saving as well. The EnOcean alliance seems to be leading here, especially with self-powered devices, while other providers like ZigBee focusing more on wired and grid-powered sensors and switches.

Shoe power

These aren’t yet commercially available, but there are several people who managed to make a power-generating shoe. Using piezoelectricity, the forces of human walking can be harvesting to power a small device, or at least recharge you phone while walking. You can’t really buy one yet, here is a tutorial to make it. Also, IBM included “people power”, of which piezoelectric shoes are a subset, in their five-year predictions (while I was in the middle of the seminar) as an example of technology which will prosper soon. Since I walk about 2.5 kilometers to school and back at least two times per week, I’d be interested in such shoes, provided they won’t be prohibitively expensive.

Batteryless remotes

English: Batteryless TV remote control from Ph...

Batteryless remote by Arveni for Philips

This doesn’t really interest me, as I neither watch TV nor have a car, but the force of pressing the button is often enough to send a signal from the remote to the receiver (TV, car, whatever else there’s a remote for). Because of this, batteries can be completely removed, removing the terrible annoyances when they run out. Philips has a working prototype for a TV remote, while Volvo presented a favorable case study  for their S80 in 2000. Once again, I haven’t yet seen one of these in real life, but as the costs of power sources drop, they might be coming without us knowing at all.

My seminar

If you’re interested, I have included both the article and a short presentation, both in PDF form.

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