Gym Twofer: Get Fit, Charge Your Phone

Some UC Berkeley engineering students have put a different twist on the familiar concept of capturing the energy expended during gym workouts. As a result, an elliptical machine workout at the university’s Recreational Sports Facility can not only help you shed fat, it can power up your electronic device.

Here’s fourth-year electrical engineering/computer science student Jodi Loo showing off the system and explaining how it works:

As alluded to in the video, this project goes back a few years, to when an earlier group of students – mechanical engineering undergraduate student Maha Haji and mechanical engineering graduate student Kimberly Lau – first eyed the legion of huffing and puffing students at the RSF and began thinking about putting that expended energy to work.

The thought then was to capture the energy – lost as waste heat by the exercise machines – and pipe it onto the grid. But according to the university, “faced with challenges relating to scaling and interfacing with the utility company, the focus of the project shifted.”

The focus is, instead, on educating users about energy consumption and energy technology by making energy more tangible. Putting it right in front of their face on the elliptical machine and a stationary bike (the hope is to retrofit all 28 ellipticals in the gym) will do that. What it won’t do, however, is add up to a tremendous amount of energy – maybe around 10,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, less than 1 percent of the RSF’s energy needs. Still, every little bit counts, the students behind the project are obviously learning a lot, and the users are gaining insight into how innovation can address our energy challenges.

The project was backed by a $15,000 grant from The Green Initiative Fund at the university.

Editor’s note: A Facebook friend tipped us to the existence of similar device-charging exercise machines at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Check out this YouTube video!

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.