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How driving can light up cities

New Energy Technologies

Cars can help generate electricity to light up city streets by rolling over these rumble strip-like speed bumps as the come to a stop. The technology was recently demonstrated in Roanoke, Va.

The roads of the future may be lined with speed bumps if a Maryland company succeeds in wide-scale deployment of a technology that harvests kinetic energy from cars and trucks and converts it to electricity.

The technology essentially helps slow vehicles down as they roll over rumble strip-like treadles that capture energy that is otherwise lost as heat when drivers step on the brakes. 

This harvested energy is used to generate electricity that can power streetlights, nearby buildings and keep emergency communications equipment charged up, for example.


The MotionPower strip is being developed by Maryland-based New Energy Technologies. They recently demonstrated it at an event center in Roanoke, Virginia, where stopping cars lit up a series of lights.

A total of 580 cars drove over the strip in a 6-hour period, generating enough electricity to power an average U.S. home for a day, according to the company.

The concept of harvesting energy from people as they move around is nothing new. We've seen an energy harvesting backpack, pair of shoes, and a knee brace, for example, as well as pavers that light up when people step on them a la the late Michael Jackson in his "Billie Jean" video.

New Energy Technologies envisions their system as a way to generate clean and green energy for cities and, at the same time, help them shave costs off their electricity bills.

Assuming the technology works as advertised, there's the question of economics. How much does the system cost to install and maintain and what's the payback in terms of a city's savings on utility bills? A spokesman said hard numbers aren't yet available.

More on energy harvesting technologies:

John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.



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