A Step In The Right Direction

Mobile phones could soon be ‘powered by walking’ according to a recent report on the BBC news website. Boffins at the University of Wisconsin have come up with a technique for generating electricity using a device that is placed in your shoe.

The device captures the energy of moving micro droplets and converts it into electrical current.

View of walking boots from wearer
These lazy feet could be generating electricity! Source: Flickr by goose3five
The scientific principle behind this technology is known as “reverse electrowetting” which is defined as the conversion of energy of moving microscopic liquid droplets into an electrical current. The device consists of thousands of electrically conductive droplets and is able to generate enough electrical energy to charge a standard mobile phone or laptop. The technology, known as “footwear-embedded energy harvesting” is being developed by InStep NanoPower, who claim that as much 20 Watts of power per foot is simply lost as heat during normal walking.

The research [is] a step in the right direction. Dr Patrick Joseph-Franks from the National Physical Laboratory.

Power Walking

The development of this technology has a tremendous implication for hikers through to adventurers. Whether you are going for a walk in the countryside or on a six month expedition through uncharted mountain ranges, it is likely that you will be carrying some electronic equipment. These days we all like to take photos, write blog posts and communicate with others wherever we are! So as long as we are walking, we’ll be able to power up our kit.

These charging devices have been designed to be placed in shoes, but walking boots will allow placement of larger devices that can supply even more power. It is one day hoped that technology will advance far enough to power portable microwave ovens. However, we must stress that it could be several years before this happens and that we should not abandon our camping stoves just yet.

Walking boot manufacturer Brasher are already developing soles that can accommodate the charging device. They are confident that there will be no need to create a high-heeled boot to fit the device in. In fact, they say, the device will help absorb the impact when your foot hits the ground. So, you will be able to power your electronic devices and benefit from an even more comfortable walking experience.

Power To The People

Back in the day Ramblers took power to the people through a mass trespass on Kinder Scout in the Peak District, England. This famous event lead the way to public access on private land for recreation in the UK. Now the Ramblers Association are planning to bring even more power to the people.

With our increasing need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, the Rambler Association are hoping to make a difference with these walking power chargers. All members of the Ramblers Association will be supplied with [the devices] so that when they are out hiking they can charge up batteries. The energy from the batteries will then be transferred into the National Grid. We estimate that a group of 25 ramblers trekking for 6 hours could generate enough electricity to power a flat screen TV for 30 minutes.

Big heeled sling back shoes
Big heeled shoes could house many charging devices. Source: Flickr by Northampton Museum.

Potential for Trouble

However, there is concern amongst podiatrists that these devices could cause problems for people intent on making money from generating electricity. The larger your footwear is, the more power generating devices you can fit in them. The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists are predicting that people will wear shoes that are too big for them in order to generate more power.

We will see an increase in patients with sores and chaffing on their feet, as well as incidents of people twisting their ankles and falling over. This will be offset by a reduction in patients suffering from corns because their shoes are too small. So its not all bad news.

It could also lead to a resurgence in the popularity of platform shoes, which could accommodate as many as ten power generating devices. Fashion experts are said to be extremely concerned about this potential development of function over form.


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