Student inventors are dreaming of a more convenient, more energy-efficient future, from a GPS that surpasses traffic congestion to a floor that generates electricity. Ira Flatow and the winners of the Microsoft “Imagine Cup” and Siemens’s “we can change the world’s challenges” talk about their innovation.
IRA FLATOW, host:
This is science Friday; I’m Ira Flatow. Imagine walking through times square, where you can turn it into a tiny electric current through the special pavement under your feet. Now multiply by a third of the millions who walk through times square on any given day. Wow, it could be a very reliable source of renewable energy, right, maybe enough to power all those neon lights and flashing billboards.
Well, in a New York sidewalk before electricity there may be a period of time, but a group of high school students and inventors have been studying the idea, they have built a prototype pavement tiles, convert your footsteps to watts, they are two T, we can challenge the world challenge at Siemens won the second prize in the country.
The young innovators and others are joining us in sharing their stories and inventions, many of them energy-efficient, and created by these young scientists. Now let me take them. I’ll take one at a time.
My first guest and his classmates invented the electric sidewalk tile, and their name and their team were called chargers. Daniel Morrow is a junior student at providence university in charlotte, north Carolina. Welcome to science day.
DANIEL MORROW: good afternoon. Thank you for your invitation.
FLATOW: tell us about your invention. How does it work? How does it turn my steps into electricity?
MORROW: okay, well, the product is a device, it’s a floor mat. It looks like a textbook thickness tile. It USES electromagnetic induction to generate energy, and for those you don’t know, how does electromagnetic induction work? When a magnet passes through a coil, a current is generated, and the generated energy is stored in the capacitor.
This common application is like a flashlight with no battery, but when it moves, it generates energy. So we thought why not put this thing on the mat, where there are very few cells, and when you compress it, you push the cylindrical magnet into the copper wire.
FLATOW: and then you store all that energy, and you can light up something, or it can be LED or something.
Moro: yes, probably more than that.
FLATOW: more than that?
MORROW: well, we have not yet fully achieve how many, we are still trying to understand, but if we try to supply with the 60 watt light bulb, we can put it in our dining room, make it pretty soon, in fact, in relative terms.
FLATOW: have you ever calculated how much electricity you can get from places like times square? Is it a very busy place?
Morrie: well, we haven’t done that, but we’ve entered our school cafeteria, where 3,000 people come in and out every day. So we found is that when we put the pads in the entrance of the cafeteria, we produce every day 6.3 watts of power, although it sounds like a small part, but the technology has yet to reach its full function.
FLATOW: your team actually wants to use this pad to power SteriPEN.
MORROW: SteriPEN is a device that USES UVC radiation to sterilize water. It can sterilize up to 1 liter at a time, and can sterilize more than 3,000 liters in its lifetime.
FLATOW: how much does it cost to do this?
MORROW: well, we found that the cost of each unit in this mat is about $8, and it has magnets, coils and everything else. But each 10-unit mat costs about $90.
FLATOW: wow, you know, a few years ago I had an idea that maybe you could turn it into something, like this idea. Have you ever been to a big city, you see a lot of revolving doors, New York has thousands of revolving doors.
MORROW: yes, there is.
FLATOW: if you can install a small generator on these revolving doors, then people push them and generate electricity?
MORROW: yes, that might work, too. This is actually a good idea. We’re actually thinking, you can put in different stadiums, and I think you can put them at the entrance to the stadium. As you said at the beginning, times square can generate a lot of energy.
FLATOW: wow, anything, right? Anything that moves, you can energize and build human resources.
Flatow: well, good luck, Daniel.
Moro: ok, thank you very much.
FLATOW: thank you. Good luck. Daniel Morrow is a junior at providence day school in charlotte, north Carolina. His team – chargers in Siemens we can change the world challenge to second place.
We’re moving now – a smarter GPS. Now you’ve driven a car, and you’re trying to follow your GPS, just to get you into the traffic jam, right. Well, it knows all the streets of the city. Why can’t it tell you to bypass traffic? I’d love to have this.
So, this is a GPS that my next guest and his Greenway team invented, which can eliminate traffic jams before blocking traffic jams. It won the first place at the Imagine cup in Germany, and the team will enter Australia’s global final next week. Christian Bruggemann is the leader of the greenway team. He was a first-year math student at bielfield university in Germany, and he joined us by phone. Welcome to science day.
Christian bruggeman: thank you very much.
FLATOW: how did you do that? What made you start with this idea?
BRUGGEMANN: that’s an interesting story. We were basically sitting in a cafe in central London, and we looked at the streets that were barely used. On the other hand, there are streets full of cars. We think this is a very unbalanced situation.
So the idea is what happens if cars are routed in a smarter way, such as dispersing traffic to the entire infrastructure.
FLATOW: and tell us about the functions and USES of your Greenway system. How does it work?
BRUGGEMANN: well, basically, every driver is connected to our Greenway server, and every 30 seconds, his GPS location is transferred to the server. The route is then computed on the server side and the result is returned to the navigation system.
Therefore, the server knows all the routes and all locations of the car, and the server can calculate these routes in a smarter way. Basically, it sets aside time on a single street, so it can predict future traffic.
FLATOW: it’s like air traffic control in a car.
BRUGGEMANN: it’s even more – it’s basically the city’s traffic control system.
FLATOW: so it computes – all these cars are being sent, and their GPS system will send back your computer, central computer, their location and destination. The computer says, well, there’s a traffic jam in this place, so let’s get a little more.
BRUGGEMANN: exactly. So it retains all of these periods on a single road and on the street, so it knows where the car is in the future. Personal lines can be found in this information. So if there is some traffic jams, not everyone when blocked traffic jams along the same lines, but everyone can get individual routes, such as optimizing the overall fuel consumption and speed.
FLATOW: brilliant, brilliant. Is this actually being tested anywhere?
BRUGGEMANN: it’s being tested in Munich. So we started a pilot program a few days ago, and testers from the greater Munich area were testing the system every day for the next few weeks.
FLATOW: do you need more test drivers, or do you have enough?
BRUGGEMANN: yes, despair. We can have up to 100 test drivers. At the moment, I think we have 30. So yes, we do need more.
Frato: so if you are studying in Munich, please contact Christian bruggeman.
BRUGGEMANN: fine, thanks.
FLATOW: can people download it to their smartphones now? You know what, you can – it’s this – okay?
BRUGGEMANN: not yet publicly available, but if you want to test this feature, you can log on to our website, greenway2012.com, and email us, and we’ll give you a beta account.
FLATOW: and finally, how do you make it better? I mean, you know, sometimes you walk down the street, some trucks unload or stuff in the street, and the GPS doesn’t know, does it?
Bruggeman: no, not for those things. However, if you have all the vehicle’s position and speed, can realize that there is some thing, if the system realized that there is a barrier, it can skillfully guide everyone around.
FLATOW: wow, wow. We’re going to focus on this. This looks like something we can all use.
BRUGGEMANN: yes, I hope so.
Flatow: thanks Christian, we’re spending time with us today. Good luck.
BRUGGEMANN: yes, thank you.
FLATOW: have a nice weekend. Christian bruggeman is the leader of the greenway team, the winner – the team is Microsoft’s fantasy cup winner in Germany. He’s a first-year math student at the university of bielefeld, and they’re going to the finals in Australia.
Our next young innovator has a milk pitcher. It’s really interesting. We’re going to talk to the young inventor later, but – we’re going to introduce Bridget Zarych and her team from Pinelands Eco Scienteers. She was number one in Siemens’ “we can change the world”. She is a second-year student at the Pinelands Regional High School in Little Egg Harbor. Welcome to science day, Bridget.
BRIDGET ZARYCH: hey, thanks.
FLATOW: now you’ve come up with an innovative way for people in the developing world who don’t use gas stoves and stoves to cook, they use wood or dung. You’ve come up with a new fuel, right?