SFU student designs power-generating shoe

Taylor Ward is currently completing a joint design and marketing major at SFU. - SFU News
Taylor Ward is currently completing a joint design and marketing major at SFU. - SFU News
Taylor Ward is currently completing a joint design and marketing major at SFU. – SFU News

Imagine a pair of insoles that took the kinetic energy of your steps and converted it into usable electricity.

SFU student Taylor Ward’s newest design, STEP, is meant to do just that. The concept of STEP centres on finding a way to create renewable energy from a device that has been around for thousands of years: the shoe.

The purpose of the insole is to help users store energy generated by their steps, roughly 100 W for each step. This energy is then pumped back into the city through the form of public transfer stations connected to a city-wide power grid.

Ward travelled to San Francisco earlier this month to present his idea at the Interaction15 Conference as part of the 2015 IxDA Student Design Challenge. At the conference, he presented his idea before an audience including roughly 900 IxD professionals as part of the final portion of the competition.

The competition challenged graduate as well as undergraduate students around the world to design a product that will hold practical usage, both in the world as it is today and the world we aim towards in the future. This year’s challenge was based on the concept of a “wearable city.”

The concept of a wearable city is an initiative to think about how our everyday lives are creating an impact on the world and its environment, and whether a design could benefit from what is already there, either in progress or in use. As IxDA mentioned on their website, this competition seeks to challenge students to dive deeper, beyond the feasibility or even application of their design, and to explore what it means to be cognisant of the environment.

Ward, who is currently completing his joint design and marketing major, took first place at the competition.

STEP was largely inspired by Vancouver’s 2020 action plan, Ward informed The Province. He also took inspiration from the current usage of electricity within Canada. As he explained in his IxDA submission video, “Canada’s domestic consumption of electricity was nearly 560 trillion watts of power, expanded in a single hour.”

When Ward looked at people’s travelling patterns around Vancouver, he discovered that harnessing their existing behaviours could convert them into mini power plants and potentially address our overconsumption of electricity and power.

Ward explains that the components for the insole are based on the technology of piezoelectric nano-generators and capacitors, which are used to convert the kinetic energy of a step into electricity.

Despite the idea being a conceptual design, it is very plausible, he told The Province.  The insole would not only benefit from walkers, but also runners, and perhaps even cyclists.

Ward expanded the potential benefactors of this concept to include people in developing nations. If people could help power up their own villages with STEP, it could decrease the usage of other potentially damaging sources, such as high volumes of coal.

For Ward, the possibilities are endless. “In our lifetimes we take approximately 150 million steps,” Ward stated in his video. “Imagine if we could capture that power.”