Intelligent Cities

Author: Andrew Buxton

This innovative energy-generating product employs piezoelectric technology to convert the kinetic energy from foot traffic and other vibrations into electric energy. The circuitry design maximizes the electronic signal and distributes electricity to its intended application or battery storage system. A rugged flooring product is custom designed around the electronics to protect the sensitive components inside. Powerleap is among the first of its kind to take advantage of the unique properties of piezoelectric materials, to actually produce usable amounts of electricity.

Picture being able to scatter hundreds of tiny sensors around a building to monitor temperature or humidity, or embedding micro remote wireless sensors into the painted surface of a bridge, to monitor the stress of the structure 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Smart dust devices are tiny wireless microelectromechanical sensors (MEMS) that can detect everything, from light to vibrations.

Thanks to recent breakthroughs in silicon and fabrication techniques, these “motes” could eventually be the size of a grain of sand, though each would contain sensors, computing circuits, bidirectional wireless communications technology and a power supply. Motes would gather scads of data, run computations and communicate that information using two-way band radio between motes, at distances approaching 1,000 feet.

Potential commercial applications are varied, ranging from catching manufacturing defects, by sensing out-of-range vibrations in industrial equipment, to tracking patient movements in a hospital room, serving as traffic sensors in congested urban areas and monitoring the power consumption of household appliances, to determine whether they’re operating at peak efficiency and more.

On the power side, research is currently under way by UC Berkeley’s Shad Roundy, on fuel cells that can “scavenge” energy to make smart-dust devices run longer. This includes drawing off the ambient vibration energy generated by an industrial machine or gathering energy from low levels of light.

A solar roadway is a road surface that generates electricity by solar photovoltaics. One current proposal is for 12 ft x 12 ft (4 m x 4 m) panels, including solar panels and LED signage, that can be driven on. The concept involves replacing highways, roads, parking lots, driveways and sidewalks with such a system.

It is claimed that doing so across the United States of America could generate three times as much electricity as is needed to power that country and almost enough to power the world. The Solar Roadway is a series of structurally-engineered solar panels that are driven upon. The idea is to replace all current petroleum-based asphalt roads, parking lots and driveways with Solar Road Panels that collect energy, to be used by our homes and businesses.

Our ultimate goal is to be able to store excess energy in or alongside the Solar Roadways. This renewable energy replaces the need for the current fossil fuels used for the generation of electricity. This, in turn, cuts greenhouse gases literally in half.

An organisation called Solar Roadways in Idaho, USA, has been awarded a $100,000 research contract by the US Department of Transportation to prototype Solar Road Panels.

Imagine how fast this technology could be developed if the question wasn’t one of money, but one of available resources.


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