Your suggestion, notarboca, is noted! I didn't mean to criticize any Canadian schools, by the way...I just personally don't know about universities with engineering specialities there. But I am sure there are a lot ready to welcome inventors like Ann.
Thank you for providing a different perspective, skroeger, and your points are well taken and certainly based in expertise and experience. I still think Ann's design could have usefulness, and, as you say, she would be more than a welcome addition to the field of engineering.
I agree, Liz. Energy harvesting and 3D printing are two of today's hottest technical areas. Energy harvesting is coming along at the right time, because so many of today's electronic devices are so power stingy and need very little current to run them. Small amounts of current can now be useful.
I hate to be the first, or perhaps only, one to find fault with the flashlight. I applaud Ms.Makosinski's interest in science and engineering and lament the dearth of young people, particularly women, entering engineering. But this design actually seems to ignore the "bigger picture".
The flashlight market is already filled with hand/solar powered designs that use dynamos or photovoltaic cells and various energy storage methods (flywheels, springs, batteries, capacitors) to provide either short or long term energy storage between episodes of energy input. These flashlights retail for less than the cost of just the thermoelectric cooling modules used in Ms. Makowsinki's design. They operate in gloved hands and, if they have internal energy storage, hands free.
I have several dynamo flashlights I've collected over the years, often for no more than a couple dollars. The dynamos they contain are capable of generating 2 Watts for as long as I can keep up my end of the equation. Ten seconds of vigorous cranking or squeezing would provide as much total energy as one hour of holding Ms. Makosinski's flashlight at her max stated power of 5mW.
As thermoelectric generation depends energy transport between the hand and the environment, it will work best in the most uncomfortable circumstances. Gloving your hand to protect from extreme heat or cold would dramatically reduce the available power. I certainly would not wish to grope along on a snowy path holding a metal flashlight in my bare hand. I might welcome squeezing or cranking one with my gloved hands. Wandering the same path on a balmy summer evening might result in no useable temperature differential from which to extract energy. I don't think I want to consult a weather report to know if my flashlight will work.
Using the best LEDs at 200 Lumen/watt (just now being achieved), Ms. Makosinski's flashlight would produce 1 lumen from 5mW. That's enough power to illuminate 40ft2 to the level of a full moonlit night, but not nearly sufficient for many of the tasks for which I have purchased flashlights.
There are two aspects of this design that I do find interesting. First is that we're approaching 200L/W via LEDs and second that we've produced silicon circuits that can be powered from millivolts (I'll guess that one of the "four components" used in her power converter is a Linear Technology LT3108 or something like it, or perhaps a module containing such a chip, which stretches the definition of "component".) As conversion efficiency between electricity and motion/heat/light increases, I see a bright future for useful devices that have low impact on the enviroment and high impact on our personal quality of life.
For more information on human powered devices... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clockwork_Radio
In particular, Trevor Baylis' use of a mainspring to store and meter out cranking energy was widely recognized for it's usefulness... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trevor_Baylis
I encourage Ms. Makosinski to join us in the field of engineering and to not necessarily worry about the practicality of learning experiences like her flashlight. But I caution all of us against confusing the novelty of a thing with its usefulness. Ultimately, engineering is more the latter.
I have nothing against video games, as sometimes they can be very educational. But I do agree, naperlou, that kids might be directed to try other things if they weren't so engaged in that type of play all the time! I didn't know about those other flashlights but they sound pretty cool, too.
Oops, my mistake, SledDog. I guess I meant North America. And maybe she will go to study in the United States at a top engineering school! (You never know...I am sure Canada has great schools as well--I am not insulting Canadian universities!--but MIT is one of the finest in the world for the type of things she seems to be into.)
Energy harvesting is kind of like the 3D printing space, Chuck. It's moving faster than you can imagine, and there are countless new devices and ways to harvest energy that are revealed what seems like every day. I really love the potential of this technology.
Although plastics make up only about 11% of all US municipal solid waste, many are actually more energy-dense than coal. Converting these non-recycled plastics into energy with existing technologies could reduce US coal consumption, as well as boost domestic energy reserves, says a new study.
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