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Harvesting Pedestrian Power

A student-designed “crowd farm” would tap the energy from pounding feet for public spaces.

When Thaddeus Jusczyk enters a busy train station, he doesn’t just see teeming masses of people. He sees missed opportunities.

In this model of the train station in Turin, Italy, steel wires representing people show where crowds gather

“It’s really astounding how much [energy] moves through the crowd,” says the architecture graduate student. “I think it’s an untapped resource.”

This story is part of the November/December 2007 Issue of the MIT News magazine
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He’s not the only one. To demonstrate how public spaces can tap pedestrian power, Jusczyk and ­architecture classmate James Graham have re­imagined a train station in Turin, Italy, as what they call a “crowd farm”: its floors convert the force of footfalls into electricity that powers, among other things, the station’s lights. Initially created for a Venice Biennale exhibit in 2006, their design recently earned first place in a competition organized by the Swiss Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction. It features a mesh floor with small bricks that depress slightly under pedestrians’ weight and move magnets past metal coils, generating electricity on the same principle that governs the wheel-­powered light of a bicycle dynamo.

Next year, a Rotterdam nightclub plans to add a dance floor that draws energy from pounding feet. But ­Jusczyk and Graham hope the concept will transcend such novelty uses. “Rather than just having a high-tech floor mat in a building, we’re talking about reassessing the design of urban spaces, and building around the pedestrian,” says Jusczyk.

With current technology, one human step would light two 60-watt bulbs for only a second. Still, Jusczyk believes future architectural forms could turn everyday motions into great assets. “There are small actions from which we can harvest small amounts of energy that would accumulate over a large population,” he says.

Once Jusczyk and Graham line up more funding, they’ll be able to work with engineers to build a working model of their crowd farm.

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