How 3 American Startups Put Your Body’s Kinetic Energy to Work

The future of kinetic energy harvesting technology is bright. Experts think it will help open the door to a range of technological innovations that will be powered, not by batteries, but by the world around them. Our bodies’ everyday movements may soon power electronic sensors, medical implants, or our smartwatch.

What many people don’t realize is that you can start putting your body’s energy to use right now (or in the very near future), thanks to innovative entrepreneurs whose gadgets can recharge your phone, turn on a light, or learn to reduce your carbon footprint.

Today BPM Land celebrates the 4th of July by bringing you three American startups that want you to get off the couch and start putting your body’s kinetic energy to good use.

 

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If you know how to change the wheel on your bike, you can turn it into an energy-generating exercise bike using The Green Microgym’s UpCycle EcoCharger (photo: The Green Microgym).

 

Give the energy from your workout back to the grid

In most gyms, a steady stream of human-powered kinetic energy goes to waste, while the air conditioning and electronic equipment sucks power from the grid. It’s no surprise then that many eco-conscious fitness enthusiasts have looked for ways to generate power from their workouts.

That was Adam Boesel’s thinking when he started his own gym in Portland, Oregon in 2008. According to his website, he was surprised at the lack of affordable, energy-generating gym equipment. His solution was to go DIY, figuring out how to retrofit his exercise bikes so that they would generate electricity and feed it back to the grid via a wall outlet.

Today he runs The Green Microgym, which sells energy-generating fitness equipment from SportsArt Fitness, as well as educational material and business documents for anyone looking to start their own green gym.

For those who want to harness their kinetic energy from the comfort of their own home, the Green Microgym also sells an invention called the Upcycle Ecocharger, which you can use to turn any bicycle into a power generating exercise bike simply by replacing the rear wheel. The power you generate can go into the grid via a wall outlet, or power a battery recharger, which the website says will charge two phones to full with a 20-minute workout.

EcoCharger users shouldn’t expect to make money selling their energy back to the grid – the human body simply doesn’t generate as much as other green energy sources like wind and sun. However, Adam has found his EcoChargers to be a great tool for getting people excited about renewable energy. He suggests using it to teach kids about physics and energy conservation, while also giving them a refreshing and energy-expending break.

 

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Ampy lets you save energy from your daily activities, and use it later when your phone is about to die (Photo: Ampy).

 

Go for a jog to charge your phone

But perhaps exercise bikes aren’t your thing, and you don’t have a green gym near you. If so, a startup called Ampy may have a better solution. The Ampy Move is a portable battery charger for active people whose phones are prone to dying at inconvenient times. It works like any other portable charger, except that Ampy charges itself from energy you generate when you move.

It takes a steady up-and-down motion to charge it reliably, so you’ll want to carry it on you when walking or running, or you could strap it to your leg when cycling. It’s small enough to fit in a pocket or a handbag, and apparently weighs no more than a smartphone. The company’s website boasts that an hour of running generates enough power charge a phone for up to 1 hour of normal use, or up to 5 hours on standby.

The award-winning Ampy Move was invented by Tejas Shastry, Mide Geier and Alex Smith, three engineering PhDs from Northwestern University who met in an entrepreneurship class. Their invention – developed with a team of engineers and designers at Northwestern’s Segal Design Institute – is currently being beta tested by volunteers from among its Kickstarter campaign contributors.

Ampy is expecting to launch the final product in the fall of this year, and in the meantime you can pre-order one for $99 on their website.

 

Soccket-Ball-Kinetic-Energy
The SOCCET Ball, created by the social entrepreneurs at Uncharted Play, uses the energy of your soccer game to light a lamp and inspire tomorrow’s innovators (Photo: Uncharted Play).

 

Use energy from your soccer game to light a lamp and spark a child’s curiosity

Of course, we expect engineers to lead cool new tech startups. But Jessica O. Matthews, founder and CEO of Uncharted Play, was a social science student when she came up with the SOCCKET Ball for a class project at Harvard.

The school project grew into a company that currently makes two toys designed to generate kinetic energy through play. The SOCCKET Ball is a soccer ball that powers an energy-efficient LED lamp, and the PULSE is a jump rope that acts as a USB charger for electronic devices.

While both are neat toys on their own, it’s Uncharted Play’s social mission that sets it apart, and helps justify the $99 price tag. For each toy sold, another is made available to kids in developing countries through partnerships with NGO’s, along with the company’s Think Out of Bounds curriculum.

The goal is to use the energy-generating toys to get kids interested in math and science, inspire them to become innovators…and give them clean light so they can see their homework. The company’s website points out that nearly 1.2 billion people around the world lack access to a reliable electrical grid, relying instead on heavily polluting power sources like kerosene lamps and diesel generators.

Uncharted Play describes their impact this way: “We inspire communities to challenge how they think about energy and electricity, and consider new ways to power their lives.” They don’t claim to be the solution to the problem of energy access, but they do make a strong case for seeing the connections between education, innovation, physical wellness, and play.

As Americans celebrate their national holiday this weekend, they can be proud of homegrown companies that are finding innovative ways to get your body moving!

At BPM Land, we’re collecting stories like this on how kinetic energy makes life better or even helps you escape to an awesome experience. Check back or sign-up to see what’s new and coming down the kinetic power line. Share your own stories too.