Human-Powered Machines Resource List: Pedal to the Metal

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by Stephen Hutchings

DIY Plans and Resources to Buy Human-Powered Machines

Adults of average physical fitness can produce between 50 and 150 watts of mechanical power pedaling a bicycle. Why not put that power to work powering electronics, appliances and other machines? You’ll get fit while reducing your dependence of fossil fueled electricity.

Pedal-powered machines are favorite spectacles at fairs and events, churning out smoothies and powering televisions. But pedal-powered blenders are just the beginning, and human-powered technologies date back hundreds of years. Today, the setup usually incorporates a generator and inverter in order to convert your mechanical work into electrical energy. However, this is not always the case. Either way, groups and resources abound to help you construct your own human-powered machines for cheap — giving you a bit more motivation to move your body.

DIY Human-Powered Machines

Human-Powered Organizations and Companies

Human Dynamo

This company is determined to harness the mechanical energy right where many cyclists congregate: the gym. By linking a bank of stationary bicycles to an electrical generator, cyclists add a little juice to the electricity demands of their facility.

Pedal Power Engineering

This small Essex, N.Y., engineering firm designs and builds custom human-powered devices.

Powered by The People

By using different pedal-powered devices like a human-powered blender and the biker bar to perform work and generate electricity at local events, Canada’s Powered by The People aims to create an open forum for conversation about sustainability, cycling and alternative energy.

Rock the Bike

When power was cut to San Francisco’s Occupy movement, Rock the Bike brought pedal to protest powering generators. Purchase from their store and check out their extensive YouTube collection of videos.

SpringActive Company

Current applications for the military create 5 to 6 w power as soldiers walk through a power pack strapped to the back of their ankles.

Sustainable Dance Club

“Energy Floors” dance clubs use kinetic energy of dancing feet to provide bars and buildings with power.

Woodway EcoMill

This totally self-powered treadmill provides a unique green alternative to motorized treadmills. Utilizing an innovative curved running surface, this all manual treadmill has been proven to burn up to 30% more calories than motorized treadmills.

Pedal Power Appropriate Tech for the Developing World

Alternative Energy News

AEN’s Human Power Webpage features pedal-powered laptops in Afghanistan, a pedal-powered dynapod, heritage wooden bicycles, and more.

Engineering For Change

Aaron Stathum and Eliot Coven, industrial design students at Philadelphia University, collaborated with Sudanese refugees at a job-placement service in New Jersey to create this ultra low-tech washing machine that operates with a 5-gal bucket and some plastic rope.

Human Powered Machines

The Human Powered Network of Eugene, Ore., believes that “just as a monoculture system impairs the health of agriculture, one basic bike frame form limits the potential of human-powered transportation.” They host workshops and apprenticeships, and offer a line of pedal-powered haulers to fit the whole family’s needs.

Maya Pedal

This NGO realizes the practical benefits of utilizing pedal power in developing parts of the world; places where electricity is often expensive and difficult to get. In Guatamala, Maya Pedal has a busy workshop staffed by locals and by volunteers from around the world offering repairs and selling used bikes.

Human-Powered Machines in the News

Designer Christoph Thetard

Thetard’s R2B2 is an all-in-one human-powered kitchenette. It’s not only functional, but proves beauty comes in compact packages.

EcoFriend has compiled “10 Amazing Pedal Machines,” showcasing a water purifier, snow plow, bottle cooler and heater, and even a law mower.

Low-Tech Magazine

Low-Tech Magazine’s Human Powered Machines Page compiles 13 posts on everything from pedal cars and cargo-carrying cyclists to antiquated human-powered cranes and hand-cranked drills. In addition to offering a history of human-powered technologies, the site profiles an extensive list of all-but-obsolete technologies.

No Tech Magazine

Get a history lesson while you work. Like Low Tech Magazine, No Tech’s Human-Powered Webpage posts great articles on heritage technologies, such as prison treadmills, hand-operated vacuum cleaners, apple peelers, and even a pedal wool carding machine.

“12 Bizarre Pedal Powered Things” features some of the wackier ideas to come out of the human-powered world: a Japanese roller coaster, pedal-powered tractor, carnival ride, graffiti, and more.

Peanut Sheller, Pedal Powered

Watch this BBC video on YouTube of an appropriate tech peanut sheller.