Since the millennium, around 2 million pay phones have disappeared from U.S. street corners. Maybe renewably powered smartphone chargers will eventually replace them. A startup with a charger that combines solar and foot power hopes its invention will become as ubiquitous in dense urban neighborhoods as phone booths once were.
Though the EnGo isn’t the first public charging station to use solar panels, it may be the first to also incorporate kinetic power. In front of the charging station, two tiles capture the energy from each footstep as pedestrians walk by.
“We wanted to create a combination of kinetic energy and solar energy, because we saw that each approach on its own has certain disadvantages,” says Petar Mirovic, CEO of Volta Group, the company manufacturing the EnGo. “If you have just solar panels, you’ll have days without sun. At the same time, we saw a huge potential in further developing kinetic energy tiles. In areas like Manhattan, or other busy areas, there’s a waste of footsteps that can be used in a better way.”
The station can charge up to 14 different devices at a time, and includes commonly used cables that can easily be swapped out as technology changes, along with wireless charging pads. Of course, it’s not exactly like a phone booth. A phone call can take two minutes, whereas charging your device takes much longer with today’s technology–a situation that might not be practical on a street corner.
That’s why there are other benefits: The station also provides free Wi-Fi and an emergency intercom. Large screens can display maps and ads; on average, the idea is that the kiosk pays for itself in about a year thanks to ad revenue, and then it can start generating money for the city that owns it. It’s free to use anyone charging gadgets.
By making renewable energy more visible in public spaces, the startup hopes more people will start thinking about energy use in everyday life. “We wanted to create a practical example–a small example–for people to understand how kinetic power works,” says Mirovic. “Our ultimate goal is to motivate people to think about that renewable energy they create by stepping on the tile, and to see how solar panels work. So when they get home and they see that all lights are turned on, they’ll think, why waste that energy?”
The company plans to use the same combination of technology to charge streetlights, using tiles embedded in the street to harvest energy from passing cars. After spending the last nine months developing the EnGo charging station, they recently installed the first device at Webster University in St. Louis. Over the next six months, they plan to install 100 more.