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NASA's piezo-powered "smart path" lights up and beams fun facts to visitor's phones

NASA's piezo-powered "smart pa...
Visitors to NASA's Kennedy Space Center will soon be greeted by a huge high-tech path, made up of piezoelectric tiles that light up and harvest their own energy
Visitors to NASA's Kennedy Space Center will soon be greeted by a huge high-tech path, made up of piezoelectric tiles that light up and harvest their own energy
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Visitors to NASA's Kennedy Space Center will soon be greeted by a huge high-tech path, made up of piezoelectric tiles that light up and harvest their own energy
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Visitors to NASA's Kennedy Space Center will soon be greeted by a huge high-tech path, made up of piezoelectric tiles that light up and harvest their own energy
Each tile in NASA's high-tech new path contains circuit boards, six small solar panels, a battery, LEDs, a Bluetooth and a Wi-Fi transmitter, micro controllers and a piezoelectric element
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Each tile in NASA's high-tech new path contains circuit boards, six small solar panels, a battery, LEDs, a Bluetooth and a Wi-Fi transmitter, micro controllers and a piezoelectric element
The piezoelectric tiles will form mosaic images of Earth, Mars, the Moon and the International Space Station
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The piezoelectric tiles will form mosaic images of Earth, Mars, the Moon and the International Space Station
Ilan Stern, Georgia Tech research scientist, standing on the tiles that will soon be installed at NASA's Kennedy Space Center and holding the electronics inside
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Ilan Stern, Georgia Tech research scientist, standing on the tiles that will soon be installed at NASA's Kennedy Space Center and holding the electronics inside

In today's concrete jungle, pavement takes up a lot of space, so we might as well cram some smarts in there. Previously we've seen ground coverings that light up, absorb solar energy, generate electricity from the footsteps of pedestrians, and even emit Wi-Fi signals. Now NASA is combining a little of all of those in a high-tech new path due to greet visitors to the Kennedy Space Center.

The US$2 million installation is made up of about 1,000 tiles spread across 40,000 square feet (3,700 sq m). These tiles form mosaic images of Earth, Mars, the Moon and the International Space Station, but it's what's inside that counts.

Each tile contains circuit boards, six small solar panels, a battery, LEDs, a Bluetooth and a Wi-Fi transmitter, micro controllers and a piezoelectric element. All of this is encased in cavities in thin, high-performance concrete and topped off with a strong glass tile. Piezoelectric systems generate energy from mechanical stress, and in this case that means footsteps.

Each tile in NASA's high-tech new path contains circuit boards, six small solar panels, a battery, LEDs, a Bluetooth and a Wi-Fi transmitter, micro controllers and a piezoelectric element
Each tile in NASA's high-tech new path contains circuit boards, six small solar panels, a battery, LEDs, a Bluetooth and a Wi-Fi transmitter, micro controllers and a piezoelectric element

"No one has made anything like this — an outdoor tile system using a piezoelectric element to trigger customized and off-the-shelf electronics and coupling them for human interactions," says Ilan Stern, senior research scientist at Georgia Tech, which is collaborating with NASA on the project. "When you step on the load-bearing glass tile, it compresses the piezoelectric element, creating an electrical charge that lights up the cavity's 125 LEDs."

Along with lighting up in a variety of colors, the tiles can also beam a wireless signal to the phones of passersby to deliver nuggets of wisdom on NASA's space missions, the mechanics of piezoelectric technology, and other things.

"The piezoelectric element also powers a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth signal to visitors' smartphones, which can play audio, providing information about their geolocation and for potential wayfinding," says Stern. "The audio provides information such as how much energy is being generated throughout the park during the day."

Ilan Stern, Georgia Tech research scientist, standing on the tiles that will soon be installed at NASA's Kennedy Space Center and holding the electronics inside
Ilan Stern, Georgia Tech research scientist, standing on the tiles that will soon be installed at NASA's Kennedy Space Center and holding the electronics inside

The system is completely self-powered, but not just by the piezo elements: The solar arrays are constantly absorbing energy from the Sun as well, and it's all stored in a rechargeable lithium battery for nighttime use.

Ultimately, the aim of the project is to showcase "smart city" applications of the technology. Installations like these could be used to power local devices like street lights, guide visitors to points of interest, or collect real-time information about traffic and road surface conditions.

"We need a more flexible use of the electric grid," says Stern. "Our goal is to develop more self-powered, self-generating systems with added storage that will give us more choices in energy usage and minimize waste. As much as possible, we should convert wasted mechanical energy—human and vehicle movement — into usable energy generation and storage."

Source: Georgia Tech

4 comments
Daishi
Piezoelectric systems can be walked on by people to create energy but that doesn't mean that the energy is "free". It would be like walking on a trampoline or in sand in that it's offset by needing slightly more energy from the human for walking. Putting these on a roadway to capture energy from vehicles would have the same problem. The movement of the surface would cost more energy from the vehicle than it makes. If that weren't true you could just make piezoelectric wheels for cars that would serve as a perpetual energy system. It's an interesting demonstration of technology (file it under tech art) but that's not to be confused with the people who insist we should do this will all roads and sidewalks. Those people are wrong.
JasonBurr
"""No one has made anything like this — an outdoor tile system using a piezoelectric element to trigger customized and off-the-shelf electronics and coupling them for human interactions," says Ilan Stern""" See, now here's a problem. DOT has funded a company to design this very thing. They already have manufacturing partners and public installations working. SolarRoadways. I hate it when people claim worlds first, without making sure its actually worlds first.
piperTom
At $50/sq.ft. it is mostly a demonstration of how government spends money.
Daishi
@JasonBurr Solar roadways has some of the components but lacks the piezoelectric element. The skeptics predicted SolarRoadways to be a huge failure and they turned out to be completely right. Thunderf00t on youtube gave an update on how that was going in August https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIuiZh5t9_Y I posted this comment in March to one of the older Solar Roadways articles here "This demo was a complete failure. Only some of the panels worked for a while and the solar panels generated 0 power and have to be powered by an external source and then they all shorted and stopped working. They replaced the demo with a brand new set of panels with brighter LED's (both have a gloss surface not fit for roads btw), then the new panels shorted out and quit working too, then they had a fire of some sort that required the fire department now even the new demo id dead too. So much for "paying for themselves" or "low maintenance". They produced zero electricity, the LED's were barely visible even with a gloss surface,the new demo uses as much power as a house, and they have had numerous technical problems to include a fire. They received $1.5 mil in government funding and like $2.5 million in total and they failed to even put LED's in shiny glass sidewalk blocks with it. They failed so hard even the critics gave them too much credit."