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Angelo Casimiro, a 15 year old high school student from the Philippines, made global news headlines after he successfully developed a device which can generate electricity as a user walks. The invention – essentially a shoe insole made with piezoelectric materials – is able to harness electrical energy with each step a person takes and could theoretically have a number of important practical uses in the future.
Up until now, Casimiro has spent a total of five years working on the device, having started the planning process at the age of just 11.
In 2014, after an extensive period of testing, he decided it was time to share the project with the world and officially entered it into the Google Science Fair; eventually becoming a regional finalist.
Although it is not yet at the stage where it can be mass produced and sold as a consumer product, Casimiro believes his innovative design could eventually be of great benefit to people all over the world who are living in communities without electricity. Indeed, its potential uses include the ability to charge mobile phones, MP3 players, flash lights and other similar personal electronics; all without the need for plug sockets or an electricity supply.
Concept and Composition
Despite his relative youth, Angelo Casimiro claims to have been working on similar technology projects for over a decade. The inspiration for this particular device came while he was pondering alternative energy sources. Suddenly, he was struck by the realisation that something most of us do every day could generate significant energy.
“It wasn't easy to think of an energy alternative that's not related to wind, solar, hydro or bio gas, but an idea just hit me,” he said on a Youtube video discussing the project. “Thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of footsteps land each second and each footstep creates a great amount of force. We know it's a fact that the average human takes 7,000 steps a day, so I asked myself: maybe it's possible to harvest electricity from our footsteps.”
The technology itself comes in the form of a shoe insole, which can be worn inside footwear and connected to various external electronics, including USB devices. The electrical components are housed within foam pads, which act “like a gel insole”, ensuring that the device can be worn comfortably inside a shoe, without causing any physical discomfort. At its core is a piezoelectric component, which is able to generate a charge of 26 volts.
It is estimated that jogging while wearing the device could fully charge a 400mAh lithium battery in eight hours, while walking would take slightly longer.
The concept of piezoelectricity is nothing new, as its mechanisms were discovered all the way back in 1880, by French siblings Jacques and Pierre Curie. The piezoelectric effect refers to the ability of certain solid materials to generate an electric charge when they are subjected to either vibrations or mechanical stress. However, the creation of a power generating shoe is a unique way to utilise this energy.
Previous attempts at creating similar shoes have usually relied on mechanical dynamos as the central pieces of technology for generating electricity. One advantage of this approach is that dynamos are able to produce electricity at a faster rate than with piezoelectricity, resulting in quicker device charge times. However, Angelo Casimiro cited a number of practical considerations as the main reasoning behind his own piezoelectricity-based approach to the task.
“As much as possible, I tried to avoid using dynamos,” he explained on the device's main Instructables project page. “Yes, dynamos produce more electricity, but it will feel like you have stuffed a rock in your shoe. Don't forget, dynamos will also create a lot of noise.”
Potential Future Uses
Even during the lengthy design process, Casimiro himself expressed doubts over whether or not his device would actually have any practical use or solve any problems. Yet, he soon came to realise the enormous potential such technology could have, especially in poorer parts of the world, where access to electricity may be severely limited.
“I live in the Philippines and just by looking around my surroundings, I can see that a lot of people are suffering from poverty,” Casimiro said. “A simple source of light is a big deal for people who do not have access to electricity.”
Of course, it is not just those in poverty stricken regions that can be caught without a source of electricity. The design could potentially be extremely useful and perhaps even life-saving for a range of people. Imagine, for example, never having to worry about charging your phone again, even if you are out hiking, or at a music festival.
Meanwhile, Angelo Casimiro has considered other potential uses for the technology in the future, stating that his concept is “ideal for smart clothing”, and suggesting a sports apparel range that syncs to a smart phone, smart watch or other device.
“Who knows? Maybe someday shoe companies like Nike could use these insole generators to power fitness chips (inside shoes) that would sync to your phone wirelessly,” he added.
One of the most exciting aspects of the invention is the fact that Casimiro published detailed step-by-step instructions for people who want to have a go at building the device themselves. Its 'open sourced' nature means that anybody can use the existing plans as a starting point, adding their own ideas and modifications along the way.
Theoretically, this could lead to significant fine-tuning and performance improvements over the course of the months and years ahead, with a view to getting a version of the device ready for mass distribution.
As for Angelo Casimiro, he plan to continue working on other projects in the future. In particular, he has a keen interest in robotics, having entered his country's annual National Robotics Competition for the last two years, as well as the 2014 International Robotics Olympia.
“I have been making projects since I was four years old, and I have earned a lot of knowledge through my experience,” he said, summarising his journey.