Design and Energy Harvesting research

From Interaction Station Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

This page is under construction!!! (mainly written in it is 2022...reviewing....)


  • A research by Beam into the possibilities for WdKA students to add energy harvesting to their projects. The focus of this research is on how this field of Energy Harvesting can be openend up for WdKA students.
  • The next more difficult question is what can be the contribution of WdKA students to this field?

About Energy Harvesting

If your product becomes interactive in any way it needs energy. This energy is normally obtained from the mains (220V) or using batteries. In case of batteries, like laptops and cell phones, the device has to be recharged regularly.

Energy Harvesting means you replace these traditional sources by a way to generate the needed energy by the product you have designed yourself. This can be done by using the energy of the Sun in a solar cell, or wind energy by a generator or the muscle energy of the user by a dynamo.

Why is this nice?

  • Not wasting more fossil energy
  • Not or less dependent of Putin's oil, he might get angry and turn of your device, more general: independent of politicians, dictators, manipulators
  • You or your product use what you need, which is a good principle
  • You or your product could help other people becoming a little bit more independent, you could be an example for them
  • You get empowered, which means you can really even at a small scale make a difference in the energy and climate change debate.
  • you get conscious of energy domains, that means that even using "traditional" energy you will waste less


  • you think you can solve the energy problem: forget it!
  • using solar energy also warms up the Earth's atmosphere
  • many energy harvesting ideas are inefficient, using more resources for creating equipment than the energy that is saved
  • producing local energy on a small scale is always less efficient than production on a big scale
  • thinking that you can bypass commercial laws about making profit at the cost of others or at the cost of the resources of the Earth
  • thinking that you can "help" poor people in "poor" countries
  • suggesting solutions from one domain of energy to work for other domains of energy

Research Blog

In this blog the posts document the progress of the research. The research was not a lineair process. The subject of Energy Harvesting is complex and has lot's of details. This research was not only about knowledge gathering but also doing experiments ourselves.

  • (Transferred) Blog - (now in 2022 this is an old blog - 2015)
    • The blog posts are transferred from the Raspberry Pi to a normal Wordpress blog]
  • Former Blog on Raspberry Pi
    • sorry, due to the 2015 NASA App Challenge Weekend, the Raspberry Pi Server is not in service at the moment.

The research result is an energy harvesting game wearable: artistic research result

The resulting garment is shown at a presentation of wearables at the Kunst Fach Hochschule Bremen on the 28th of April 2015.

It is also presented at the E-textile Summercamp 2015:

All kind of early e-textile experiments: [1]

Powerpoints of a course "Energy Harvesting for Designers"

In the "Open AanbodWdKA" a course on this subject was given. Two powerpoints introduce the subject and the calculations:

Categories of Design Projects using Energy Harvesting

  • Commercial Projects
    • Designers are involved in projects which want to generate commercially exploitable amounts of energy
  • Social Projects
  • Projects creating Toys for awareness
    • Designers are creating interesting game situations for children to gain intuition into energy
  • Research Projects
    • research Designers are investigating possibilities of energy harvesting in clothing and devices and probing the social consequences

Energy Domains

Important is to distinguish energy domains, a wind turbine is rather different from a microcontroller running on harvested energy from vibrations. The turbine can furnish energy for a small village, the mentioned microcontroller can only send data sometimes, to a computer which is running on batteries. Evert domain has it's own characteristics and use for example different batteries, even different electric wires, from ultra thin to very thick.

  • Very low energy harvesting (Seeback effect, Peltier Element, Piezo energy)
    • With this kind of energy you can send a signal or data once in a while, like temperature, or a wireless signal in order to open a door with a bigger motor
  • Low energy
    • microcontrollers, specialized low energy sensors, small sound, only flashes of LED light.
  • Middle field, low energy (solar cells, dynamo's for human use)
    • In this domain you can charge your cell phones or smaller devices
    • small servo motors, most normal sensors
  • more energy used by to devices steered by microcontrollers
    • bigger servo motors, bigger lights, meters with many neopixels, heating devices
  • High (higher) energy projects

Ways of Energy Harvesting

Calculations, Laws, Formula's

In order to be able to make your project work you need to calculate what energy you need. Then you have to choose from the possibilities available which source will deliver that energy. Also you have to consider the circumstances. You can think the Sun will be able to deliver the energy , but if you will use your design product in Holland the Sun is not always available, so you need to consider alternatives. Power Law: P = V * I, power equals volt times current.

Energy Law : E = P * s, total energy is power times the number of seconds you apply this power.

Ohm's Law: V = I * R, Voltage equals Current times resistance.

Example: [2]

Proposed energy installations for the Interaction Stations

Investigated Gadgets

Investigating gadgets is done for hacking. Hacking means modifying an existing device for your projects purposes. In the case of energy harvesting this can save you a lot of time, because the designers of the gadgets already did the research. You have to choose the right gadget, hack it and you might have your project on it's own energy!

Beside that you have experimenting kits. In these kits, mainly solar cell experimenting kits, you can find examples of applying the energy of a solar cell. Most of the time, the design level of these kits is very low.

Some cheap gadgets analysed for this research:

  • Chinese dynamo light torch, very cheap, 1 euro
  • IKEA Ljusa, dynamo light torch, 4 euros
  • Chinese garden lamp, with a solar cell

comparing these gadgets:

Solar cell kits: [3]

  • 6 in 1 Educational Solar Kit
  • Velleman kit EDU 02
  • Conrad kit

Some toys for children:

  • EnergyBugs: energy harvesting wearables for children:

  • Tribo-electric effect - Paper generators, working with Teflon:

Ivan Poupyrev and others. 2013

With this idea I made an "e-textile swatch": 2015 - The rubbing of the knitting on the plastic side, connected with an h-bridge chip, should make a led flash. It worked, sometimes. Later it didn't work...

Experiments with harvesting chips

These chips and microcontrollers are not for beginners!

Sometimes advanced soldering techniques are needed.

LTC 3108: Peltier chip, this was a day of soldering with the microscope: a movie of this chip:

Joule Thief

This is in principle an energy harvesting circuit for beginners.

But understanding the way it works is advanced, technical (electronics) master level.

I showed this circuit to students in an elective about energy (ENergy for Designers). I provided them with the necessary components. They got the circuit working. But then?

The notion of the amount of energy coming out of this, and for what "design" it can be used, that is either very technical, or advanced.

Joule Thief: as one of my swatches form my "Portable Sensor Lab":

Joule Thief Powerpoint:

Elective 2019: Energy for Designers

AS mentioned, I did an elective around Energy, for the WdKA students. The Joule Thief circuit was part of this elective.


Although the students in the end came up with funny ideas, I think the subject is "too technical".

Of course, the technical part came be forgotten, only to do this subject "speculative".

Then it is maybe fun, but ... maybe ... also a bit nonsense. Energy is "hard", "technical", just speculating - fantasizing about energy, without any knowledge about it....I don't know.

Sleep mode in all microcontrollers

To save energy, a microcontroller can be put into several energy saving modes.

This also means the microcontrollers are not reacting as they would in normal energy mode.

For example, an ATtiny85 can run on a 3V coin cell battery for a year - if it only gives a very short blink every day.

Programming the microcontrollers in energy saving modes (sleep mode, watch dog timer) is advanced stuff.

You can find tutorials on the internet about this, some are easy, some are very advanced.

Tutorial at Adafruit:

Developments 2022

The start of this page was written in 2015. Now it is 2022.

  • In the domain of microcontrollers:

More and more microcontrollers and sensors are running at 3V instead of 5V. For microcontrollers this is a significant difference!

There are boards running for weeks at a coin cell battery, like the Sparkfun Edge.

  • Just about this SparkFun Edge: this is not a board for beginners!!!! The programming is complicated and the Artificial Intelligence results are ... quite speculative (which means disappointing in this case....).

Many boards and sensors of Sparkfun are at 3 Volts (beware - if you put 5V on these sensors, they don't function anymore!!!). Boards and sensors of Adafruit run on both 3V and 5V.

Other boards on 3V: for instance the BBC Microbit.

  • In 2022 many difficult to solder yourself chips have break out boards:

Sparkfun harvester breakout:

Thinking from another angle 2022

  • a display for a microcontroller which does not use energy (when not "changed").

Lately there are e-paper displays for microcontrollers. These display use energy when written to, but after that, the text or drawing remains on the display even if the battery is detached: e-paper display, for instance:

When one starts making wooden battery holders, immediately the "design" component becomes obvious, product design, materials. The wood has a shape - different from the "cold" electronic, technical shape. Also the wood has "character". The wood resists. Your finger is hurt by a saw going the wrong way...:-). Of course, something like a transistor cannot be made from wood, nor chips.

Some of my energy related or maybe related projects

"Doing it yourself" - getting lost in details, making errors, failures, getting of track, learning new things, experimenting.

A 2017 dress made of Yaki sushi nori:, shown during the E-textile summer camp 2017. Of course this project was half jokingly critical: the idea to grow your dress, wear it, eat it, and so on. The nori was acting as a humidity sensor: if it rained, the stuff gets smelly.

A 2019 project using wind-energy (in a classical sense): interactivity and kites: resulting in an object (kite) being able to be unhappy, because of being able to "dream" data from other objects. Being unhappy because of dreaming to be somebody else then you are.

Design-Art questioning

Can energy be designed? Or is meant behavior design for instance in Transformation Design, some behavior that spends less energy? Or is this subject only meant for "energy minimizing projects".

Design-Art is an area where many layers of meaning are playing a role:

not only:

  • shape-form
  • materials
  • presentation
  • context
  • development
  • process

but also:

  • trend
  • hype
  • playfulness
  • humor
  • sarcasm
  • activism
  • critical approach

"Energy" is not in itself a design component, nor a material. How is "energy" fitting in - with these advanced layers of design?

Or is energy more like "a material", that is, likewise the material acquires its "playfulness" etcetera through design?

Can design be considered "better" if it consumes less or no energy? Isn't that depending on other factors, like mass production?

Is energy consideration just following a societal trend?

If a certain design costs less energy, or in the limit no energy, then the energy factor is eliminated, which leads to a paradox? (Starting with energy as a part of design, the designer succeeded in minimizing the consumed energy, ergo this design leaves the domain of "energy".

But how leading is energy then in a design? Is energy a very special, or "just" a design component?

In prototyping, worrying about energy, is that spending your energy in the right way? The prototype being developed, isn't it for another specialist to deliberate the energy reduction?


So many books - go to the - then research station - then online catalogue.

Type in: "Energy Harvesting".

You will find many specialised books on many topics and energy domains.

Some workshop blog posts: (my workshops or related)

I gave this workshop in France for e-textile Designers: in 2015. This post also belongs to that event:

In another e-textile summer camp: 2016:

Many YouTube movies can be found...many tutorials....