Boots That Get You Charged Up

Inventor finds a way to harness all that energy you burn on switchbacks and long trails.

When huffing and puffing up the side of a mountain with your pack on, you exert nearly enough energy to illuminate a light bulb. What if you could harness all that power and use it later?

English inventor Trevor Baylis wondered the same thing, and the result is a pair of boots that stores human-generated energy. His prototype "electric shoes" work on the same principle as the piezoelectric lighters found on some camp stoves. When compressed by a footstep, the boots' piezoelectric material harnesses energy. The energy is then transported via wires to a battery in a pouch at the heel. The battery can be used later to accomplish other tasks such as running a headlamp. Once the boots are refined, it's possible that hikers wouldn't need to carry extra batteries into the wild.

The current prototype can fuel only a cell-phone battery—a 100-mile trek across Africa's Nimid Desert stored enough energy for Baylis to make a 10-minute call to England. Future models may be able to run laptop computers, Baylis contends. He is at work on the problem of extending the boots' harnessing power, and hopes to have a stronger prototype soon.

The inventor acknowledged there are also improvements to be made to the boots' clunky appearance. He plans to refine the product to improve water resistance and streamline the battery pouch. "We don't want people to look like jackasses wearing these," he quipped.