Engineering smarter cities, one step at a time

Person walks across Pavegen floor tiles in an urban environment.

16 November 2018


Pavegen’s innovative flooring technology converts the kinetic energy of footsteps into off-grid electricity and data. It enables citizens to participate directly in contributing to the sustainability of their city. The company, based in London and Cambridge, believes that it is people – not technology alone – that will transform our cities.

The beginning

Laurence Kemball-Cook, founder and CEO of Pavegen, had the idea for an energy harvesting floor shortly after graduating from Loughborough University with a first-class degree in Industrial Design and Technology. Regular journeys through Victoria Station, the UK’s second busiest with 208,000 journeys a day, provided vivid inspiration. Could that footfall be useful in generating some of the city’s energy needs? Laurence set out to construct a working prototype of a flooring tile that would convert the kinetic energy from a simple footstep into off-grid electrical power. Enter Pavegen.

Energy and engagement

Pavegen’s technology – which uses electromagnetic generation – is a simple enough idea to understand. In practice, however, it proved difficult to refine into the first working Pavegen tile. Nonetheless, Laurence persisted and eventually managed to start building a viable business.

One of Pavegen’s first commissions was on a new bridge connecting West Ham station to the London 2012 Olympic Park, where footsteps of visitors to the games powered LED lights. More high-profile commissions followed and in 2014, Pavegen worked with QEPrize donor company Shell to deploy tiles below a football pitch in a Rio favela and then in a settlement in Lagos, Nigeria.

In combination with solar, these communities’ footsteps are providing the energy to light their soccer fields at night, providing a valuable and safe space for locals. From the beginning, it was obvious to Laurence and his customers that people love to participate and to make a positive impact. Now, with a staff of 25, the team are targeting installations across smart city developments, airports and stations, schools, and retail environments.

Surface engineering

Designing and manufacturing a robust, efficient, and visually appealing flooring product of such complexity has been challenging. The system must withstand water, sand, dirt and extreme temperatures, and also meet stringent safety regulations. To achieve this, the company conducts a continuous innovation process at its R&D site, based in Cambridge and led by Pavegen’s Chief Technology Officer, Craig Webster.

Following a record-breaking fundraise using platform Crowdcube, Pavegen was able to develop its latest award-winning model, the V3. The innovative new design has a surface constructed from equilateral triangular tiles to capture more of the energy from footfall and to minimise any trip hazard.

As a pedestrian steps onto the tiles, their weight compresses the surface by between 5 and 10mm. This downward force compresses the electromagnetic generators, rotating magnets through coils and producing around three joules of electrical energy per step (or up to 7 watts per person as they walk). The energy can be used to power LED lighting, sounds, sensors, data capture, and transmission.

From powering to empowering

As well as the energy produced, Pavegen walkways now reward users for their footsteps. The tiles contain beacons which connect to smartphone apps, enabling people to convert their energy into a digital currency which they can spend, save, or pass on. The system, developed with Jeff Martin, the digital marketing brains behind Apple’s iTunes, also provides permission-based customer analytics for Pavegen’s customers which include retail and leisure sites, together with smart city developers, local authorities and transport operators.

The company has recently deployed in an East London mall, connecting for the first time to a shopping centre’s rewards scheme. The footsteps of visitors to The Mercury mall, Romford, are being converted for discounts and offers, helping to increase loyalty to the mall and to increase awareness of the location’s sustainability investments.

International growth

Pavegen has now completed over 200 installations in 43 countries, deploying permanently in Abu Dhabi, Birmingham, Hong Kong, Lagos, London, Rio, Seoul and Washington DC. Through eye-catching experiential events with major organisations, Pavegen can also tap into communities that don’t have permanent walkways and change perceptions there too. Bank of the West, the US division of BNP Paribas, recently partnered with Pavegen to showcase the bank’s commitment to the environment and local communities.

The experiential campaign converted more than 350,000 steps into off-grid energy and rewards and donations for community renewable energy projects. Pavegen deployed in San Francisco, Sacramento and Portland, with a finale on Los Angeles’ Hollywood Boulevard in front of the Dolby Theatre, home to the Oscars ceremony.

Next Steps

In 2018, Pavegen signed a Memorandum of Understanding with global engineering and technology leader Siemens, another QEPrize donor company. With a demonstration set-up established at Siemens’ offices in London’s The Crystal, the two companies partnered on an installation in Newcastle for this year’s Great Exhibition of the North.

The project showcased Siemens’ energy generation and storage capabilities. With Siemens’ immense reach in smart city power and information architecture, Pavegen is well-placed to help the company make a crucial human connection to its tech, and has further projects currently in development.

The team is now working on increasing the granularity of the data Pavegen captures, and ways to sustainably increase the power output of the systems. As more and more people decide to move to cities, new smart city technologies need to seamlessly integrate into the lives of citizens in order to maximize their usage and impact. With Pavegen, the company is providing a vital interface between smart tech and the people it serves, one step at a time.

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