This morning I took a second look at an old foot-powered sewing machine table in my friend’s apartment and got to thinking: if people were able to power a sewing machine by foot and still sew clothing, what else could be done with the power of our feet?
First, here’s an example of the base of a foot-powered sewing machine, like the one in my friend’s apartment, being used to charge a mobile phone:
As the Design for Development site points out, this is great for remote villages in countries such as India which have little or no access to electricity, despite being dependent upon them for communication.
Now, what about a laptop?
Obviously the laptop requires more energy and so it takes more of a workout, but it’s clearly possible. You do have to wonder how easy it would be to type and control a touchpad or trackpoint, but keep in mind those stationary bikes are designed to give you a workout. With a different gear system, you could move your legs more slowly and steadily, still generating enough electricity but with less of the side to side movement you get when cycling, making it easier to type and navigate.
The article on the MIT website states that people were able produce 75 watts continuously, which is well over what’s needed to power a 30-watt laptop – which is actually pretty power hungry for a laptop. The Thinkpad T42 I’m typing on consumes about 20 watts when surfing the web and checking email, which is what I see most people doing with a setup like this. More energy efficient laptops like the Everex StepNote NC1500 suck up only 12 watts. Couple that with an 18W (75W-equivalent) compact fluorescent light bulb and you still only need 30 watts of power – perfect for surfing after sunset.
Just how realistic is actually using a setup like this? Well, maybe you’re like my dad: He does his morning workout on an exercise bike, but he also spends part of his morning checking email and the daily news. Why not combine the two? For more extended use, you’d obviously have to be willing to work longer for your right to surf, but this still presents an interesting option for those people wanting to live off the grid: you could rely on solar power for doing computer work by day and hook it up to the bike at night – or when power is otherwise low.
Perhaps in the not-too-distant future when we see someone walking down the street with really toned legs we’ll say “Wow, they must be a geek.”