Human power (also mentioned sometimes as crank power) is work or energy that is produced from the human body. It can also refer to the power (rate of work per time) of a human. Power comes primarily from muscles, but body heat is also used to do work like warming shelters, food, or other humans.
World records of power performance by humans are of interest to work planners and work-process engineers. The average level of human power that can be maintained over a certain duration of time, say over the extent of one minute or one hour is interesting to engineers designing work operations in industry. Human power is sometimes used to generate electricity that is stored.
A trained cyclist can produce about 400 watts of mechanical power for an hour or more, but adults of good average fitness average between 50 and 150 watts for an hour of vigorous exercise. A healthy well-fed laborer over the course of an 8-hour work shift can sustain an average output of about 75 watts. The yield of electric power is decreased by the efficiency of the human-powered generator.
While some exercise equipment has been fitted with generators, the amount of energy collected is of low value compared to the cost of the conversion equipment.
Several forms of transport utilize human power. They include the bicycle, wheelchair, walking, skateboard, wheelbarrow, rowing, skis, and rickshaw. Some forms may utilize more than one person. The historical galley was propelled by freemen or citizens in ancient times, and by slaves captured by pirates in more recent times. The Gossamer Condor was the first human-powered aircraft capable of controlled and sustained flight, making its first flight in 1977. In 2007, Jason Lewis of Expedition 360 became the first person to circumnavigate the globe using only human power: walking, biking, and rollerblading across the landmasses; and swimming, kayaking, rowing, and using a 26-foot-long pedal-powered boat to cross the oceans.
Some equipment uses human power. It may directly use mechanical power from muscles, or a generator may convert energy generated by the body into electrical power.
Human-powered equipment describes electrical appliances which can be powered by electricity generated by human muscle power as an alternative to conventional sources of electricity such as primary batteries and the power grid. Such devices contain electrical generators or an induction system to recharge their batteries. Separate crank-operated generators are now available to recharge battery-powered portable electronic devices such as cell phones. Others, such as mechanically powered flashlights, have the generator integrated within the device itself.
An alternative to rechargeable batteries for electricity storage is supercapacitors, now being used in some devices such as the mechanically powered flashlight shown here. Devices that store the energy mechanically, rather than electrically, include Clockwork radios with a mainspring which is wound up by a crank and turns a generator to power the radio.
An early example of regular use of human-powered electrical equipment is in early telephone systems; current to ring the remote bell was provided by a subscriber cranking a handle on the telephone, which turned a small magneto generator. Human-powered devices are useful as emergency equipment, when natural disaster, war, or civil disturbance make regular power supplies unavailable. They have also been seen as economical for use in poor countries, where batteries may be expensive and mains power unreliable or unavailable. They are also an environmentally preferable alternative to the use of disposable batteries, which are wasteful source of energy and may introduce heavy metals into the environment. Communications is a common application for the relatively small amount of electric power that can be generated by a human turning a generator.
The World War II-era "Gibson girl" survival radio used a hand-cranked generator to provide power; this avoided the unreliable performance of dry-cell batteries that might be stored for months before they were needed, although it had the drawback that the survivor had to be fit enough to turn the crank. Survival radios were invented and deployed by both sides during the war. The SCR-578 (and the similar post-war AN/CRT-3) survival radio transmitters carried by aircraft on over-water operations were given the nickname Gibson Girl because of their "hourglass" shape, which allowed them to be held stationary between the legs while the generator handle was turned.
A windup radio or clockwork radio is a radio that is powered by human muscle power rather than batteries or the electrical grid. In the most common arrangement, an internal electrical generator is run by a mainspring, which is wound by a hand crank on the case. Turning the crank winds the spring and a full winding will allow several hours of operation. Alternatively, the generator can charge an internal battery.
Radios powered by handcranked generators are not new, but their market was previously seen as limited to emergency or military organizations. The modern clockwork radio was designed and patented in 1991 by British inventor Trevor Baylis as a response to the AIDS crisis. He envisioned it as a radio for use by poor people in developing countries without access to batteries. In 1994, British accountant Chris Staines and his South African partner, Rory Stear, secured the worldwide license to the invention and cofounded Baygen Power Industries (now Freeplay Energy PLC), which produced the first commercial model. The key to its design was the use of a constant velocity spring to store the potential energy which are no longer in use. After Baylis lost control of his invention when Baygen became Freeplay, the Freeplay Energy units switched to disposable batteries charged by cheaper hand-crank generators.
Like other self-powered equipment, windup radios were intended for camping, emergencies and for areas where there is no electrical grid and replacement batteries are hard to obtain, such as in developing countries or remote settlements. They are also useful where a radio is not used on a regular basis and batteries would deteriorate, such as at a vacation house or cabin.
Windup radios designed for emergency use often included flashlights, blinking emergency lights, and emergency sirens. They also may include multiple alternate power sources such as disposable or rechargeable batteries, auto cigarette lighter plugs, and solar cells.
The Pedal Radio (or Pedal Wireless) was a radio transmitter-receiver powered by a pedal-driven generator. It was developed by Alfred Traeger in 1929 as a way of providing radio communications to remote homesteads in the Australian outback. There was no mains or generator power available at the time and batteries to provide the power required would have been too expensive. It is considered an important Australian invention.
- Eugene A. Avallone et. al, (ed), Marks' Standard Handbook for Mechanical Engineers 11th Edition , Mc-Graw Hill, New York 2007 ISBN 0-07-142867-4 page 9-4
- Tom Gibson, Turning sweat into watts, IEEE Spectrum Volume 48 Number 7 July 2011, pp. 50-55
- Guinness World Records (6 October 2007). "Human Powered Circumnavigations".
- AdventureStats by Explorersweb. "Global HPC - Human Powered Circumnavigations". Explorersweb.
- http://wftw.nl/gibsongirl/gibsongirl.html Gibson Girl retrieved 2012 April 26
- pedal 07-99.html The Pedal Radio of the Great Outback
- http://www.questacon.edu.au/html/100 years of innovations.html