Thesis: Human Powered Electronics

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¶ … Marketing a Human-Powered Electricity Generating Device

Given the pending power doom, there aren't nearly as many mad scientists out there figuring out alternatives to the battery as one would wish. -- Steve Morgensterndan Clinton and Suzanne Kantrakirschner, 2004

The proliferation of electronic-powered mobile devices such as cell phones, personal digital assistants, and iPods continues to increase and current signs all indicate that these trends will continue well into the future. Indeed, children, adolescents and adults are all embracing mobile technology in major ways. For example, Shuler recently observed that, "Mobile devices are part of the fabric of children's lives today; they are here to stay. Sesame [Street] introduced children to the educational potential of television. A new generation of mobile media content can become a force for learning and discovery in the next decade" (2009, p. 12). Likewise, according to Murphy, "A growing number of researchers are engaging mobile devices as search tools. Smartphones, cell phones, and other mobile technologies are now commonly among the first places people turn when seeking information" (2010, p. 14). The introduction of e-book readers such as Kindle and Nook have added to the proliferation of battery-powered handheld devices in recent years as well (Ardito 2009).

The explosive growth in the use of mobile electric-powered devices is attributable in large part to the fact that these devices have continually incorporated new advanced features that provide improved communication and entertainment capabilities. For instance, Ruiz-Martinez, Sanchez-Martinez, Martinez-Montesinos and Gomez-Skarmeta (2007) note that among these innovations include the ability to download information, send e-mail and instant messaging, use video telephony, and so forth. These authors add that in recent years, the "computation and storage capabilities offered by these handsets have been improved considerably in order to provide these advanced features" (Ruiz-Martinez et al. 2007, p. 94).

Moreover, Ruiz-Martinez and his associates suggest that the proliferation of mobile devices represents an enormous market already, and devices that can contribute to their usefulness are in high demand. In this regard, Ruiz-Martinez et al. emphasize that, "As a consequence of its growth and to these advanced features, today the development of new services for these mobile devices constitutes one of the most important business markets because any service developed could, potentially, be offered to any person in the world" (2007, p. 94). Clearly, identifying new devices for a potential market of several billion or so consumers is a worthwhile enterprise. In this regard, one of the common features of all such mobile devices is the need for battery power, and while technical innovations have also improved the life of batteries in recent years (Ukens 2001), this ongoing requirement for power represents a fundamental fly in the mobile device ointment, an issues that also represents the focus of this study which is discussed further below.

Statement of the Problem

Today, developing the power requirement for wireless and portable devices has assumed new relevance and importance. In recent years, innovations in energy storage capabilities have improved in substantive ways; these innovations, though, have failed to keep pace with the concomitant developments in memory storage, microprocessors, and wireless technology applications (Yildiz 2009). Consequently, the search for alternative energy sources that can substitute for conventional batteries has received a growing amount of attention. According to Yildiz, "Power scavenging may enable wireless and portable electronic devices to be completely self-sustaining, so that battery maintenance can be eventually removed. Researchers have performed many studies in alternative energy sources that could provide small amounts of electricity to electronic devices" (2009, p. 2007).

One such approach has included human-powered energy harvesting drawing on the natural movements of the human foot using shoe inserts to generate power for a wireless transceiver that was also mounted on the shoe sole (Yildiz 2009). Research has continued to address other applications of these shoe-mounted electric generators to identify methods of transmitting power from the shoe insert generator to where the power is needed such as a handheld electric-powered mobile device. The advantages of achieving breakthroughs in this area are clear because such devices would be able to passively harvest the natural movements of the owners of these devices to supplement or perhaps even replace the ubiquitous batteries that are currently needed to keep them working. These types of energy-harvesting devices are deemed passive in that no discernible additional effort is required to generate power; by contrast, there are also active human-powered energy harvesting devices that do require a purposeful action on the part of humans that are not part of their natural movements such as self-powered products developed by FreePlay that are fueled by a constant-force spring that must be wound up in order to operate the device (FreePlay Energy 2007). The utility of these human-powered energy-harvesting devices, though, remains largely conjectural with respect to providing sufficient wattage to power typical hand-held battery-powered devices, a problem that directly relates to the purposes of this study which is discussed further below.

Purpose of Study

The purpose of this study was to develop possible improvements on a power-generating system. The device/system includes a rotary arm that extends down from the sole of a shoe which ultimately drives a pair of small electrical generator through a steeped up gearbox. The research will be focused on the possible improvement of a magnetic device due to its potential robustness, simplicity and efficiency. Research was also carried out on piezoelectric energy, electrostatic energy and electromagnetic energy as a method of energy harvesting, their respective characteristic, operating principle and areas of operating. Research was also conducted concerning how the solution (see Figures 1 through 4 below) can be improve and what needs to be improved to increase its efficiency and output.

Figures 1 through 4: Prototype of the Human-Power Energy-Harvesting Device

The project involved identifying opportunities for improving a magnetic device and where possible effect improvements to its performance. The system includes a rotary arm extending down from the sole which ultimately drove a pair of small electrical generator through a stepped up gearbox. A one way clutch mechanism was used to transmit to the gearbox. This allow for additional spin following the initial impact of a step, also preventing lockup due to rotary inertia impact in the gear. The entire generator system is to fit in the sole of a standard running shoe with the rotary arm compressing once during each heel strike.

This entailed a permanent magnet coil setup whether it will be through rotary or linear means. Various concepts that were explored also include adding mechanical energy storage such as spring and flywheels. In addition, the method of extended energy storage, such as flywheels or springs, would be taken into consideration for use with generation source. While it was desired that this device produce close to a watt power, its integration into a standard shoe required special care. The priority was to constrain the power generating to module to fit seamlessly into the sole of a shoe, and then optimize the design to produce the greatest amount of output power. In addition to this purpose, the study also investigated research work carried out on other forms of established energy harvesting from vibration-based sources with focus on piezoelectric devices and electromagnetic generators of similar characteristics. In particular, the characteristics that were examined for these energy harvesting techniques included durability, power output, viability and commercial practicality as alternative power sources for powering devices with low power requirements.

Importance of Study

According to Heath, Herman, Lugo and Reeves (2005), one of the basic limitations of all mobile devices is their inherent reliance on battery power which can fail unexpectedly. Furthermore, particularly power-hungry mobile devices such as laptop computers require significant amounts of battery power to remain operable. In this regard, Gulati, Sawhney and Paoni report that even small mobile devices such as PDAs and wireless handsets have significant power constraints. "Without a grounded power connection," Gulati and his colleagues note, "these devices rely on a limited supply of battery power" (2003, p. 136). It may be possible, though, to address this need by developing an alternative, efficient energy-harvesting device that harvests the natural movements of humans as they go about their day-to-day activities.

Scope of Study

The scope of the study extends to the improvements that are needed to make the device commercially viable, including identifying the following:

1. What the problem is

2. What needs to be improve

3. Why it should be improve

4. How it can be improve

5. Dimension of spring

6. Force

7. Measurements and calculations

8. Electric losses

9. Spring loss

10. Friction

Rationale of Study

At present, it is possible to harvest power from a variety of energy sources, including mechanical vibrations, light, acoustic, electromagnetic sources, air flow, heat, and temperature variations (Yildiz 2009). Generally speaking, energy harvesting is defined as the conversion of ambient energy into some level of usable electrical energy (Yildiz 2009). Compared to conventional energy storage methods such as batteries, these alternative energy-harvesting sources represent an abundant source of energy (Yildiz 2009). To achieve the level of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Human Powered Electronics.  (2011, March 13).  Retrieved April 25, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/human-powered-electronics/58287

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"Human Powered Electronics."  Essaytown.com.  March 13, 2011.  Accessed April 25, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/human-powered-electronics/58287.