Human powered energy harvesting is currently undergoing a trial at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex with technology developed by Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI.) A representative section prototype of Piezoelectric (PZ) enabled walkway tiles has been installed at the front entrance plaza at the visitor complex, and is currently being tested by guests. The PZ tiles, which generate electricity through energy harvesting when they are stepped on, will eventually be installed throughout the visitor complex to entertain and educate guests on sustainability and renewable energy.
“Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is at the epicenter of real, cutting edge implementation and application of new technologies,” said Therrin Protze, chief operating officer, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. “Our work with Georgia Tech Research Institute allows our guests to be a part of these new scientific advancements.”
The tiles illuminate to show guests are generating electricity. Piezoelectricity is the conversion of mechanical stress into electrical energy while also converting electric signals into mechanical stress. This can be seen in examples like the vibrating disks in headphones. By utilizing the inherent material properties of piezoelectric elements in flooring or roadway applications, movement and vehicle vibrations can be converted into usable electrical energy.
“We are honored to work with the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to showcase such an innovative use of piezoelectricity. Our goal is to not only create an exciting adventure for space center visitors, but to also help the public gain an understanding of real-life applications of sustainable technologies,” said Dr. Ilan Stern, GTRI senior research scientist.
The PZ tiles are literal stepping stones to new, green energy. When installed at the visitor complex, the walkway will be the first real implementation of this energy harvesting technology, and will serve as a data collection site for possible future installations elsewhere. In addition to this practical purpose, the illumination of the PZ tiles will generate stepping patterns that will show up for interactive game activation with visitor complex guests. The smartphone application will also allow users to learn more about the project, the organizations involved, and alternative energy harvesting methods.