Who would have thought that a jogger could illuminate a street sign, or a sports fan could power a stadium light?
Meet Elizabeth Redmond, the brainchild behind Ann Arbor-based POWERleap, a product development firm focused on generating clean energy. While attending the University of Michigan, Redmond created SmartFloor, a device that covers a floor or staircase that produces and collects electricity from people’s day-to-day activities such as walking, running, dancing, and driving. “An important factor that’s going to be apparent to people is that they have a role in the energy environment,” Redmond says.
Although energy harvesting isn’t the typical subject matter for an art student, Redmond credits her quest for creating clean power to her upbringing on a farm in Whitmore Lake. “Raised in the country, connected to the earth, growing our food — (power) wasn’t a burden; that’s how life was,” she says.
After taking a physics class at U-M and talking to engineering professors, Redmond was intrigued by piezoelectricity, the electrical charge that occurs when materials such as crystals and ceramics are crushed or smashed. Taking such collisions a step further, Redmond created the prototype for the SmartFloor and set it on a sidewalk in Ann Arbor. The product was quick to generate demand from willing participants, and Redmond soon learned “it was much more than a design thesis.”
Redmond says the SmartFloor can help reduce energy use in a building or a parking structure by up to 50 percent. She also markets a related product, called PowerFloor, which uses electromagnetic induction to create energy. Redmond says each step taken on the PowerFloor can generate five watts of electricity, which is enough to power lights or signs. The cost of a 20-inch-square unit is about $500. Redmond expects the cost to come down to around $200 once production increases.
To help generate interest, PowerFloor was installed on a staircase and landing at one of the transportation hubs that lead to the main stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Redmond says the panels power an interactive screen, which lights up as fans traverse up and down the stairs. db