Primal Numbers – People Power

Talk to someone concerned about the rise of computers and the digital age, and one thing You’re likely to hear is that we rely too much on machines. Yet one of the surprising consequences of our gadget-filled days could be just the opposite: all those iPads and Android phones might come to rely more on us. For power, that is, as science finds new and inventive ways to harness biological energy to charge our devices.

The idea of using human energy to create electricity is nothing new. Every kid That’s pedalled one of those stationary bikes at the Science Centre can tell you that. The human body is a marvellous, self-contained electrical power plant. Every muscle, from your eyelids to your toes, relies on electrical impulses to contract. As this Live Science article explains, the driving force behind that intricate circuitry is the sinoatrial node in your heart.

It’s true that the output of one of those millions of impulses is small: only about 10 to 100 millivolts. But the sum, in this case, is definitely greater than the parts. As this piece in the Business Insider explains, the energy we generate ?in the form of the body’s heat, movement, metabolism, and vibrations? has the potential to power our smart phones, TV remotes, and more.

Practical examples should be popping up in stores within the next couple of years, like this small disc generator invented by researchers at Georgia Tech. It can be worn pretty much anywhere on the body and generates enough energy to charge an iPhone.

This is the kind of research That’s worth getting fired up about. Not just for the cool factor, but for its enormous potential as an alternative energy source. For instance, though it might seem like every single person on the planet already owns a smartphone, the numbers from Business Insider reveal that only 22 per cent of the world’s population currently have one, while only 6 per cent own a tablet. That means millions more devices still to come, and added pressure on the planet’s resources not only to manufacture them but to keep all those screens lit up.

Using an existing energy source?people power, quite literally?is a truly practical solution. Especially since, though the market saturation of cell phones and tablets might increase, the energy source to power them (the consumer) is already in place. And the spinoff benefits could be great. Just imagine how much closer we’d all get to recommended daily activity levels if every action fuelled our touchscreens that little bit longer.

Just remember that there are potential pitfalls to all that distracted walking?and try not to drop your phone in the fountain.

S.D. Livingston is the author and creator of the Madeline M. Mystery Series for kids, as well as several books for older readers. Visit her website for information on her writing.