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The Piezo Array
BrightWalk by Alberto Villarreal

The winner and runners-up of Metropolis Magazine's 2007 Next Generation Design Competition have been announced, and two projects especially intrigued us.

One is Alberto Villarreal's BrightWalk, described as a “shoe that incorporates piezo-electric transducers and electroluminescent polymers to generate light while the user is walking or running.” Sounding less like something you would wave around at a rave ten years ago but nevertheless conceptually similar is Elizabeth Redmond's PowerLeap, which according to ArchNewsNow is a “piezoelectric urban flooring system that saves the energy used as people walk across it, and lights up the nighttime sidewalk.”

Firstly, apart from Villarreal's website, the press release from Metropolis Magazine, and the ArchNewsNow article, are we to understand that no other online sources describing these projects exist? Should we have attended the announcement event last week; buy the May issue (are all the runners-up given adequate description?); travel to the ICFF in New York; or wait months for the projects to make their way to Chicago for more than the seemingly cursory descriptions we've been able to collect?

Secondly, we were reminded of three things:

1) Here at Pruned, whenever one speaks of piezoelectricity, we will always be reminded first of Yusuke Obuchi's phenomenal Wave Garden.

Wave Garden by Yusuke Obuchi

The following is what we wrote last time:

Floating off the California coastline, the Wave Garden is a prototype for a dual-function power plant and public park, oscillating with the ocean waves and cycles of energy demand. It is designed to succeed the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant after its 40-year license expires in the year 2026.

As an alternative to nuclear and other conventional energy sources, the Wave Garden is an electric power plant that derives energy from the movement of ocean waves. Its piezo-electro membrane is a flexible electric generator, where bending the material or applying stress creates an electric charge. Conversely, applying electric current to the membranes causes it to deform.

Monday through Friday, it generates energy, but at the weekends, the Wave Garden changes into a public garden - thus changing from a space of production to one of recreation and consumption. At the weekends, selected areas lift above the surface of the ocean, acting as a ceiling under which boats approach the entrances.

2) Next was this Wired article, published last year in August, wherein we read that one of the regional subdivisions of the national Japanese railway network, with the help of researchers from Keio University, “plans to embed piezo pads in the floor under the ticket gates. As people pass through, vibration and pressure on the pads is converted by piezo crystals into an electrical charge which can then be channeled to highly efficient power storage systems and provide clean, ecologically friendly power to parts of the station. Although the piezo current is apparently a small one, if enough passengers pass through (and bounce a bit as they do), quite respectable amounts of electricity can be accumulated.”

Tokyo subway ticket gates

3) Lastly, the Sustainable Dance Club, whose dance floor will convert the kinetic energy of clubbers to power lights, acoustics, toilets, etc. A video by National Geographic and BBC World on the SDC is available on YouTube.

On the dance floor

To extend all these ideas further — or rather to return back to Redmond's proposal — one could imagine an extensive array of piezoelectric pedestrian pathways coursing through the urban landscape. Every sidewalk, subway tunnels, promenades, entryways and throughways siphoning power from the crowd.

And if one wants to be more strategic and thus more efficient, simply document via time-lapse photography how people move, say, through the Zócalo in Mexico City, and then install the flexible piezo-electro pavers onto where pedestrians self-organize, resulting perhaps in a strikingly beautiful paving pattern.

Thomas Laureyssens

The Kumbh Mela Array
The Jersey Array
  • Anonymous
  • May 1, 2007 at 9:41:00 AM CDT
  • Why not piezoelectric roadways and freeways? Time to take advantage of all of the large heavy vehicles plying the roadways of the united states.

  • nathan
  • May 1, 2007 at 1:57:00 PM CDT
  • From Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon:

    "...lost in thought, he stepped off curbs looking the wrong way.

    The curbs are sharp and perpendicular, not like the American smoothly molded sigmoid-cross-section curves. The transition between the side walk and the street is a crisp vertical. If you put a green lightbulb on Waterhouse's head and watched him from the side during the blackout, his trajectory would look just like a square wave traced out on the face of a single-beam oscilloscope: up, down, up, down. If he were doing this at home, the curbs would be evenly spaced, about twelve to the mile, because his home town is neatly laid out on a grid.

    Here in London, the street pattern is irregular and so the transitions in the square wave come at random-seeming times, sometimes very close together, sometimes very far apart.

    A scientist watching the wave would probably despair of finding any pattern; it would look like a random circuit, driven by noise, triggered perhaps by the arrival of cosmic rays from deep space, or the decay of radioactive isotopes.

    But if he had depth and ingenuity, it would be a different matter.

    Depth could be obtained by putting a green light bulb on the head of every person in London and then recording their tracings for a few nights. The result would be a thick pile of graph-paper tracings, each one as seemingly random as the others. The thicker the pile, the greater the depth.

    Ingenuity is a completely different matter. There is no systematic way to get it. One person could look at the pile of square wave tracings and see nothing but noise. Another might find a source of fascination there, an irrational feeling impossible to explain to anyone who did not share it. Some deep part of the mind, adept at noticing patterns (or the existence of a pattern) would stir awake and frantically signal the dull quotidian parts of the brain to keep looking at the pile of graph paper. The signal is dim and not always heeded, but it would instruct the recipient to stand there for days if necessary, shuffling through the pile of graphs like an autist, spreading them out over a large floor, stacking them in piles according to some inscrutable system, pencilling numbers, and letters from dead alphabets, into the corners, cross-referencing them, finding patterns, cross-checking them against others.

    One day this person would walk out of that room carrying a highly accurate street map of London, reconstructed from the information in all of those square wave plots.

    Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse is one of those people."

  • Anonymous
  • May 2, 2007 at 6:14:00 AM CDT
  • What a phenomenal idea, I'm surprised it didn't occur sooner.

  • Anonymous
  • September 2, 2008 at 1:55:00 PM CDT
  • aren't those shoes essentially L.A. Gear's?

  • Anonymous
  • June 11, 2009 at 3:47:00 PM CDT
  • the vehicles on the roads would actually expend energy going over a roadway that gave way, however much, so the installation of the pads on a road way would actually be self defeating.

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