Friday, February 8, 2008

Knee power

By the age of twelve or so, having grown up in a competitive cycling environment, I was perfectly capable of riding my ordinary racing bike, unattached, on a set of rollers [often referred to, particularly when the bicycle is fixed to the device, as a home trainer]. Since then, I continued this activity... even in my flat in Paris. The whirring noise was such that neighbors imagined that I was playing some kind of strange wind instrument. Friends who saw me pedaling like a crazy devil on the rollers would ask, inevitably, whether there might be some way of using all that wasted energy for some kind of noble purpose. I often imagined that it would be interesting to wire up a system, say, for frying eggs.

Apparently the authorities in Salzburg have decided to carry out research and development work in this domain. Judging from this recent photo that I found on the Internet, they've set themselves the challenge of powering up a doll house. Why not? In my article of 31 October 2007 entitled Fabulous educational project [display], I evoked the idea of using this electricity-production approach to power computers for children in developing countries.

An interesting variation on this theme has just been revealed by US and Canadian researchers who are intent upon unleashing the hidden power in the human knee.

When you think about it, it's outrageous to realize that many folk walk for the sole purpose of getting from one place to another or, worse still, for personal pleasure... when their energy could be devoted to the generation of much-needed pollution-free power. For the moment, there's a minor problem in that the walker whose knees are being used to generate electricity [more than enough, so it's said, to operate a phone or a GPS gadget] must be prepared to wander around with a device of 1.6 kg strapped to each leg. But the extra weariness at the end of a pleasant day of hiking through the mountains, say, would be compensated for by the joy of knowing that you were making a positive contribution to the exciting challenge of clean energy.

I'm convinced that imaginative scientists could think of other everyday physical activities in which wasted human energy could be harnessed by means of a few well-placed wires and state-of-the-art gadgets. As in all high-tech projects, however, there are risks. It would be silly and indeed regrettable if an especially athletic fellow were to generate such an intense burst of self-produced power that he electrocuted himself.

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