Pedal power to the people

By Tracey Grose

Applying human power to rotary motion goes back as far as the 10th Century in China and in Europe. Treadles were used to pump water, power machinery for producing textiles and working with wood. Pedal-powered machines boomed in the late 1800s, according to Low-Tech Magazine, and the rise of cheap electricity put an end to the continued development of human-powered machines. It was not until the oil crisis of the 1970s that pedal-powered machines witnessed a resurgence.

Mother Earth News reports, "Adults of average physical fitness can produce between 50 and 150 watts of mechanical power pedaling a bicycle." Today innovative people are harnessing pedal power as a low-emission option for a wide range of tasks from food production to electricity generation.

The Atlantic recently published a story about the electricity-generating bicycle desk that would power the world. Besides the desk, the startup company highlighted in the article, Pedal Power, offers open source designs for bicycle apparatuses for pumps, sharpening, powering machines, splitting logs, churning butter and more. Pedal Power tripled its fundraising goal of $10,000 on Kickstarter in December.

Around the world, creative people are developing pedal-powered tools. The Guatemala-based nonprofit, Maya Pedal, provides pedal-powered water pumps, grain mills and electrical power generation. A recent article in No Tech Magazine highlights examples of pedal-powered innovation including elevators and tractors as well as safe and efficient recycling tools for wool and even e-waste.

Innovation is often about finding new applications of exiting technology. And often this entails new combinations of existing technology. As resource costs and negative environmental impacts increase, low-tech and low-emissions solutions are worthwhile solutions in advanced as well as developing economies.

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