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Human power!

Friday the 13th has never been an unlucky day for me. In fact, I usually have great experiences on that day. I even turned age 13 on Friday the 13th.

Today things worked out well again. I went to the dentist and he found no cavities.   I went for a haircut and … well …     OK, at least I don’t have any cavities.

After that overhaul, I went looking for my friend Dave and found an interesting technology in the bargain.   Dave runs a small company in Ferrisburg VT that makes incredible “stuff.” I can’t describe the mission of the company any more precisely, because nearly everything they do involves some physical or engineering principle that I never heard of. Their products tend to be incredibly useful and obscure.

For example, they make some sort of specialized intelligent pump that goes down in a well and sucks up spilled petroleum that is floating on top of the water table, without also sucking up the water. They make a device called an ultrasound wattmeter, too, which is apparently useful in calibrating therapeutic ultrasound machines. It’s all magic to me.

Since I haven’t seen Dave in a year, I dropped by the shop to see what the latest gizmo was. It’s a bit like dropping by the shop of Caractacus Potts. There are all sorts of machines and interesting-looking devices on benches. Even more interesting are the clever re-uses he comes up with, in support of new product development. I remember we once gave Dave a 1960s-era Thermador oven from our house and he used it for strange experiments. I think it might still be there, somewhere between the CNC machine and the pile of Sunny Delight jugs they collected for some purpose, not far from the heap of obsolete computer displays that they are no doubt scavenging for precious metals.

ferrisburg-rich-generator-bike.jpgThe latest is a multi-year engagement in “human generated power.” I had no idea what this meant until Dave showed me the product. It’s basically a small generator attached to a bike stand. You ride your bike and produce 60-100 watts of power while getting good exercise.

It turns out that people on sailing yachts don’t get much exercise and they are often challenged to generate electrical power, so they buy this product. In remote parts of the world it also comes in handy. Dave’s company recently sold a bunch of them to the Siberian forestry service, for backup power to communications equipment. (More)

Educators like them too, because with a little accessory light bulbs attached to the system, kids can see for themselves how much power it takes to run those lights they keep leaving on. With a pair of bulbs, one 12v incandescent and one 12v CFL, the huge energy savings of CFLs can be clearly demonstrated.


I could see using this as an adjunct power source to my solar panels. With steady cycling, I can produce almost as much power as one of my panels in full sun at noon, which is a pretty decent amount of power for RV purposes. I’d have to pedal for hours to fully recharge my batteries, but a 30-minute workout each day would still be a nice boost on a cloudy day.

The problem for RV’ers is that the generator and stand are a bit bulky and heavy. Also, I don’t have a full-size bike with me. But I love the concept. I’d rather bicycle for 30 minutes than run a generator for 30 minutes. And I could see telling Emma, “Sure, you can watch a movie. Just get on the bike and make the power.” That would help take the excess energy out of her — and put it in our batteries instead.