As every Prius driver knows from looking at that lovely animated graphic on their dashboard, when you brake, the car converts the energy of braking–normally lost to heat–into electricity. That’s the scientific explanation, but probably doesn’t do much for how you really understand what’s happening inside a hybrid car. This video, which puts a Prius as a roller coaster and then powers lights with its brakes, does a better job:
It’s an ad for Toyota, made by the Pittsburgh design firm Deep Local (who, full disclosure, I’ve worked with before). The roller coaster allowed the shell of the Prius to descend 10 feet, hitting 15 mph before braking and generating 60 amps of current. And now that you can see all the lights–from a local amusement park–glowing, you know what kind of power comes from the brakes. The idea, say the folks at Deep Local, is to show that any time you lose energy to heat, there is power to had. There are obviously applications well beyond just cars.
To be fair, you’ll note a small disclaimer that the lights are dramatized and not actually powered by the car. But the amount of power going into the lights is the same as being generated by the brakes. You still get the idea. Better brakes can make more electricity. All it took was a roller coaster to explain.