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Primary Education News
News The floor has ears: the carpet that generates electricity and tracks your every move
Pavegen carpet tiles produce power from your footsteps and can pin-point people's movement throughout a building
Running in the corridor might not normally be encouraged in school. But at Simon Langton Grammar in Kent, teachers now have every reason to be persuading their pupils to pound down the halls.
"The more footsteps the better as far as we're concerned," says designer Laurence Kemball-Cook, who this week installed a series of floor tiles in the school corridors that generate power from the students' footfall. "The more they walk, the more the school saves on its energy bills – although of course I don't condone running in the corridor."
Made from a slender sandwich of rubber, taken from recycled lorry tyres, which conceals an integrated pressure pad, the Pavegen tiles convert the kinetic energy of each footstep into about four watts of power. It might not sound like much, but the 24 tiles now installed in the school are expected to generate enough energy to power LED lighting along the corridor as well as a series of mobile phone chargers, producing 100 watts at peak times.
Pavegen, the company Kemball-Cook founded on graduating as an industrial design engineer from Loughborough University in 2009, estimates that the energy generated over one year would be enough to fully charge over 850 mobile phones or power an electric car to drive seven miles.
"I first had the idea when watching the sheer number of people walking through Victoria station at rush hour," he says. "I thought there must be a way to harvest all this potential energy going to waste."
He had been working for a renewable energy company on street lighting powered by solar-panels and wind-turbines, but became increasingly sceptical about the usefulness of the technology for such applications. "There's a lot of shade in cities," he says, "and you don't get much useful wind until you're about 25 metres up in the air. That's a tall street light."
After winning a Royal Society of Arts prize, he spent his final year at Loughborough developing what became the Pavegen tile, first exhibited at his graduation. "It totally blew up," he says. "There was so much interest from industry that I decided to set up my own company – I was approached by Westfield Stratford City and the Olympic Delivery Authority, so I got the chance to test the idea on big crowds."
He installed 12 trial tiles at the entrance to West Ham station during the games, which generated enough energy during the day to power the station lighting by night. Attracting interest for temporary events, he then installed his invention on a dance floor at Bestival, which was able to charge 1,000 mobile phones as people krumped and twerked their way across the tiles. For a concert in Singapore, the tiles powered a cinema display, which projected tweets from the crowd.
"The idea is about much more than just energy creation," says the designer, explaining that each tile is fitted with a wifi transmitter, to beam information about its energy generation and location back to a central computer. "I can see exactly what each part of the floor is doing at any one time, all from my phone," he says. "And that data is gold."
Kemball-Cook clearly has his eyes on more than saving a school's energy bills. "It could have really powerful applications in retail," he says. "You could know exactly where the hotspots were on your shop floor, where people were shopping at what time of day. How people behave and move is the heartbeat of the high street."
He says it could also be useful in entertainment spaces – monitoring how people move around casinos – as well as for fire safety, tracking where people are in a building, in real time. "Way-finding, security lighting, controlling temperatures in buildings – in each case, monitoring from the floor tiles means you can measure with pin-point accuracy."
As our cities are becoming increasingly smart, does such sentient flooring represent an entirely welcome step? In places like Masdar in Abu Dhabi and Songdo in South Korea, every urban function – from heating and lighting, to refuse collection, security and even driving – is now monitored and controlled by a central city brain. When everything is predicted and predictable, data-crunched and optimised, what place is there for the spontaneity and freedom of urban life – when even the surfaces we walk on are a tool for increasing our consumption?
"It's not just a commercial tool," says Kemball-Cook. "Our ambition is to make this technology available to all communities around the world. We want every favela and slum, every new city and old building to be fitted with it."
But just watch where you tread. The floor might be listening.