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Every time someone walks over one of the special kinetic tiles installed in the 1,200-pupil Simon Langton Boy’s Grammer School in Caterbury, England, they generate electricity which is harvested by a passive energy harvesting system. With a peak generation capacity of just 100W, over the course of a year the 12mof tiles won’t harvest that much energy; enough to power a standard light bulb for a couple of months, or fully charge 850 mobile phones.

How it Works

While it’s an idea that has been around for a while, with the increasing number of deployments of sensors to measure the environment both inside and outside buildings, as well as larger-scale “smart city” programmes, power is starting to be needed in the strangest of places. Places where wiring the sensors into the existing power grid would be difficult or costly. Passive energy harvesting is an interesting idea that could be used to power those sensors, and the smarter cities that are driving those deployments. So perhaps its an idea whose time has finally come?

Alasdair Allan

Alasdair Allan is a scientist, author, hacker, tinkerer and co-founder of a startup working on fixing the Internet of Things. He spends much of his time probing current trends in an attempt to determine which technologies are going to define our future.



  1. Tommy Phillips says:

    Remember, there is no such thing as free energy.

    In this case, I am not talking about the food energy cost of the person stepping on and then off the tile. That is way down in the noise for the energy budget of the person activating the system, and is arguably good for them, considering how many city dwellers don’t get enough exercise.

    I am wondering about the energy cost of installing the tiles:
    - The installation process (fuel to bring the parts, tools, and personnel to and from the site)
    - The manufacturing process (plastics, circuits, control wiring, batteries, distribution cables, level converters, shipping from off-shore suppliers, etc.)
    - Maintenance, upgrade, and repair energy costs over time.

    I am not claiming this is a waste of energy, I just wonder where the break-even point is compared to other solutions.