Boxing human generated energy

FreePlay Energy was an early adopter and developer of human kinetic products. The company was headed by Chris Staines and Rory Steer, and was founded on Trevor Bayliss' clockwork radio invention. The company made a fundamental contribution to industrial design by intersecting contemporary and seemingly outdated mechanical era principles. Bayliss combined new printed circuit board (PCB) technology with a torque drum and stressed spring assembly and, in doing so, allowed a radio to function without the need of a battery or external power source. Whilst working at SYZYGY, I was fortunate to provide the industrial design and mechanical design for a couple of the Freeplay Energy products, and this post provides background on the technology used, and introduces a new human kinetic concept: Boxing Energy.

In an age of interaction design, the original FreepLay mechanism may appear fairly rudimentary, but in 1993 when Bayliss applied for a patent, the very notion of revisiting mechanical-era technology was contentious and even ridiculed. Prototyping helped persuade the cynics, and today, the intersecting of human kinetics with audio and illumination technology is evident in the fringe experiments such as hacktivism and Arduino constructions. Freeplay Energy pioneered the use of hand-held off-grid electricity generation in undeveloped and rural environments. From an semantic perspective, the use of a transparent polycarbonate plastic for the enclosure, helped promote the workings of the spring/gear assembly. Similarly, the consistent use of a wind-up handle reiterated the mechanics of rotation as a motion to generate electricity.

The Boxing Energy concept makes use of a similar technology, but makes two key deviations. The first is, that due to human-kinetic technology having reached maturity, and being categorised as microgeneration, the technology promotion component can be downplayed. The second, and probably more complex deviation, is that this technology can also be employed in industrialised countries and middle-class communities. Both these deviations necessitate a different approach to 'selling' human-kinetic technology. In other words, the expectations of a middle-class user, who has probably consumed grid electricity since birth, need to be approached sensitively. The excessive calls to demand side management (DSM) may prove pointless, unless an element of aspiration is introduced.

The Boxing Energy does this by linking aspirations of fitness to those of microgeneration by tapping into popular culture phenomena such as gyms, music and smart-phone applications. As the images that follow indicate, the user would physically do this by pulling on the gym styled hand-grip, which in turn, generates electricity. Although not shown, this can also be done with one hand or with an ankle, allowing for various pulldown exercises to be carried out.

If a smart-phone is plugged into the unit during the exercise routine, a Boxing Energy application starts to manage the session. The first manner in which it does this, is by ensuring that human-kinetic energy is truly harnessed, and that the smart-phone battery consuming functionality is switched off i.e. blue-tooth, Wifi, GSM, and even the screen back-lighting. The two dials on the Boxing Energy unit allow the user to ergonomically jog through the phones play-list and adjust volume.

However, where energy management is key to the operation of the unit, perhaps the most unique opportunity of the Boxing Energy app is the digitisation of a personal trainer. The hand-grip cable mechanism not only generates electricity, but also provides real-time feedback on the effectiveness of the training session. It does this technically by monitoring the depth of pull, duration of hesitation and juxtaposing set counts against goals. Based on this information, and using audio feedback, the Boxing Energy's built-in speaker calls out prompts to motivate the user or to change the routine.