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Energy Harvesting Table Marco van Beers |


H. Schellens (piezo-expert and owner of Heinmade, supplier of piezo cerramics) Ken (Chinese component expert, employee of J&R electronics in China) J. Kunzmann (piezo-expert and R&D Manager at Smart Material GmbH) D. Goossens (industrial design professional and owner of Bureau CQ) A. Bouman (industrial design professional and owner of Bureau CQ) M. Taya (piezo-expert and researcher at University of Washington) R. van Schaijk (piezo-expert and researcher at High Tech Campus) M. Pot (industrial design professional and owner of Bureau CQ) D. Roosegaarde (artist and owner of Studio Roosegaarde) A. Cottaar (science-expert and researcher at TU/e) O. Tomico (user expert and researcher at TU/e) P. de Boom (Owner of 0900-Design)

in collaboration with Bureau CQ Binckhorstlaan 36 2516 BE Den Haag

theme & coach across realities v.o. winthagen 02|02|09 15|06|09

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.� - Leonardo da Vinci

Introduction 4 Objective 6 Process 9

Design Idea Generation and Concept Development 12 Design Problems and Solutions 15 Technology Current Issues 24 Project Goals 27 Technical Configuration 28 Users Project Focus 32 User Research Approaches and Findings 32 References 39 CD with appendices 41


INTRODUCTION | The main design topic of this project is: Designing an energy harvesting table which could power small applications and adds value to the users life from a sustainable vision. The project ‘Energy Harvesting Table’ is for me an interesting project because of three factors: The collaboration with Bureau CQ, the unconventional process and the creation of sustainable product with a vision where everything supports each other. The table is a product which didn’t had an evolution yet. They’re still the same surface where one can place objects on, or work at. Although some attempts are made, for example the Microsoft Surface (big touchscreen) and the Panasonic’s Intelligent Table. Both have more in common with a tablet PC then with a table.

Depending on the context of use, tables are touched by limbs or products, many times an hour. This mechanical/ambient energy is lost in the table which could be captured and used for other purposes. This in combination with the lack of ‘intelligence’ in tables could create the next step in table evolution. Which is a direct link to my identity and vision: creating innovative simple products based on Consistency, Relevancy and Logic. The project is a direct collaboration with Bureau CQ, a small industrial design company suited in The Hague which focusses mainly on domestic appliances. They can manage the entire process from idea to product, including production. They’ve done successful projects for Princess, Vrumona (Dutch dealer of Pepsi and Royal Club), KLM and many

others. Recently they opened a new Studio in China where they can fully supervise engineering and production of their designs. During my internship Bureau CQ provided me the opportunity to setup my own project within their company which could act as my FBP. They found the project idea, commercially, interesting and wanted to act as a support during this project. For me this is a good opportunity to experience a direct collaboration with the business world and a design company. The process of this project is also unconventional. As a design process usually goes from problem to solution, however this process goes from solution to added value/problem because there’s already a concept. Another interesting learning experience.


OBJECTIVE | The focus on this project is to design an energy harvesting table which could power small applications and adds value to the users life from a sustainable vision. Next to that Consistency, relevancy and logic are the main topics during this project which are in line with my vi-

sion on design. Those three words can be summarized with the question: “Why?�. The table needs to be in line with the current sustainability thought, as it gathers and transforms wasted (mechanical and ambient) energy into useable electric energy. This has a direct link to the material use in the product because the material needs to support the function and the vision. During this project I wanted to achieve a better understanding on electronics and technology in general because this competency needs to be developed more. Moreover I wanted to achieve an innovative product which makes sense, breathes Consistency, Relevancy and Logic and makes a statement. In order to accomplish such a product

several areas of investigation can be determined: What is energy harvesting and how can it be achieved? How does piezo-electricity work? What is the most suited context and target group for the table? How can it be realized with a sustainable vision? How do other tables look like? The final result should be a 1+1=3 result where the whole is more then the sum of parts. It is therefore not a product, but a materialized vision. In general there should be a prototype table and the main questions should be answered and integrated in the final concept. Ideally this prototype needs to be tested and verified with users in order to create an improved generation of the product.


For Industrial Design means this project had an unconventional process.At the faculty we usually start from a problem or opportunity and then create a solution. This project started with a solution (a concept) for an unknown problem or opportunity. Instead of going from A to B, I went from B to A. Many question soon start to pop-up because there’s no target group, there’s no use and there’s no context. The search of the added value for the concept is therefore the backbone of the project. This is in contrast to the conventional process where you already have the added value, namely the problem you solve. Thanks to the direct collaboration with the business world and, international, experts (which provided me with advice

and directions to look to) the process also differentiate itself from the usual process at I.D.. These collaborations created an interesting learning experience on combining different ‘forces’ for the project to benefit on. Usually this happens on a playful and informal manner at the department, but this time I could manage my own project and collaborate with others on a professional way. This acts as great first hand experience on how it works in ‘the real world’. Due to these different ‘actors’ I involved in the project the process took sometimes unexpected turns as not all ‘actors’ can give direct feedback or shed their vision on the subject. This taught me to manage my tasks in a more efficient way and not always letting work wait for a reply.

Briefing by Client



Client Detailing/ Engineering

Ideas Concept

Focus on visuals conventional process

Communicated within

initial idea final concept


added value detailing/ engineering

ideas reality check

unconventional process


Idea Generation and Concept Development | The starting point for the concept was to create a next step in the evolution of tables. With mind maps I explored the current table, and its context in order to get a better grip on the matter. Three main, interesting, areas of use came upfront from the exploration: Leisure (hobbies, relaxations and social activities), Work and Eating. These areas act as possible areas where the table could add value. During the assignment ‘CoReflection’ I searched with users for an added value and context which the concept could offer, which is explained under the section users. (see appendix A on the CD) In order to get grip on different low power applications a mind map was created,

but also a visit to the CeBIT fair (on of the biggest technology fairs in Europe) in Hannover, Germany took place to see what kind of new technologies and applications are developed. Although it had no direct impact on the applications it served as an interesting exploration These explorations were needed to set up a big idea generation session (see appendix B on the CD) with the staff of Bureau CQ in order to see get a commercial vision on the functions and context of the table. The set up was as follow: first warming up then we’ll explore tables and context with brain dumps and mind maps. This all is then combined in the final part of the idea generation where we use a combination of ‘Fantastic story telling’ and ‘Reframing Matrixes’. This final part is the most important, since this

connects technology, table (design) and user all together into possible interesting solutions. Fantastic story telling is a technique where one tells their ideal solution. This gives great out of the box ideas and new insights in users needs. Reframing matrix gives also out of the box ideas, because you define different personas and from those personas you generate ideas to solve the problem. Interestingly two main conclusions conclusions from those brainstorms could be drawn. One was the creation of ambience the other was creating a useful application. Those will be included as one of the characteristics of the table.

The context and target group of the table will be explained under the section user. The shape of the table is obviously inherent with the desires of the users, the requirements of technology and new trends in design. Technology gave the following requirements (more on this in the section technology): Lightweight construction of the table top and room for technology. The context requires a fixed seating area at the table and the users require ergonomics (explained in the section users). A form design study took place (at 0900 design and design daily’s) to see what kind of tables are already there what kind of characteristics the tables in the target groups segment have. This study gave the following requirements: natural and relaxed colors, the shape needs to be clean, with direct

visible contours and lines. A sketch session followed where different shapes were drawn regarding those previous mentioned requirements. Shapes which met the requirements were digitalized and reviewed. One final shape was chosen and improved. The final shape is attractive, clean and allows fixed seating. It was chosen because it has firm and edgy characteristic (the straight edges of the seat and the rectangular shape of the table) while the two corner edges give that soft and approachable feeling. Therefore the shape supports the concepts vision and gives the following statement through its shape: sustainability is a necessity and your friend. The shape allows also for energy generation through its seating area, piezo elements can also be placed at

connection between seats and legs (defined in the technology section). More over this shape allows for face to face contact and equality of the user, since no one can sit at the head of the table. Production wise this shape is easy to produce, thanks to the straight surfaces and edges. There are no difficult connections, angels or bends. The table itself is made out of wood, this decision was based after the search for different renewable, inexpensive and sustainable materials. Concrete, wood and bamboo were on first selection the most interesting materials. Concrete is cheap, sustainable, it doesn’t leave traces of chemicals into the ground while it’s being used but concrete does not have a second life (although it can be reused

in new concrete).This means the energy which is put into the concrete is lost, which is not in line with the harvesting of lost energy of the concept. Bamboo and wood are therefore the most suited since they have a second life (their energy can be used again) and are renewable. Both materials do not leave traces of chemicals when they are recycled or placed into/onto the ground. Bamboo grow very fast and therefore the best renewable material. The combination of both is very interesting. Bamboo is strong and versatile, this will be applied in the table surface and seating areas. FSC wood will be applied for the two legs. The wood will be made weather proof and painted while the bamboo will show its structure and natural beauty after a coat of lacquer. The applications of the design are both

connected to the context and the user. The applications will be further defined in the section User. Design Problems and Solutions | The main problem during this project was to find added value for the user with this table. Usually you start from a problem which inherently is the actual added value for the concept (because it solves the problem). This project started from the concept and works towards an added value. Since there are no problems, the added value is difficult to find. As I experienced the highest added value lies within the context. Power (electricity) is most wanted when there is no electricity. This problem was solved by doing extensive research towards contexts and user desires, as explained in the user section.

First shapes


Current issues | The energy harvesting table works with two principles, piezo electricity and solar power. The piezo-electric effect was discovered by Curie(1). He applied pressure (pressure = piezo) on a crystal, this crystal released a small current (1). This way of energy transformation occurs when a crystal or ceramic the internal structure creates a potential difference when it is deformed by applying pressure. When this pressure is removed, the structure comes back to it’s original structure and releases a small current (1). Although this effects generates electricity by deformation, it also deforms by applying energy.

A typical characteristic of piezo material is the linear relation between applied stress and voltage generated. Another typical characteristic is the generation of an AC current, which occurs due to the double shift in the crystal structure (2,3,4). One of the interesting aspects of piezo electric material is the possibility to generate thousands of volts from one crystal when you apply a very high pressure (10). This is the principle used in an electric lighter. Although you can generate thousands of volts with such a crystal, there is not much current generated. Inevitably the power such material generate is low. However tests have shown that such material can charge a battery in a reasonable amount of time (4).

When multiple elements are active you can combine those small currents and charge a capacitor. One can conclude that by the previous mentioned characteristics piezo electric elements can not be used to power large applications such as computers and vacuum cleaners. However, it is very suited to capture ‘ambient energy’ (energy from the environment which is not used) and to use it for small appliances. (2, 3, 5, 9, 11, 12). Due to this the table will power small applications instead of large ones. The power of such element depends on several variables: the frequency of the stress (Hz), the stress itself and it depends on the type of element. There are many types of elements which all have

their own polarity and direction of pressure. Due to these direction the power output also changes when you apply a stress in a different direction. Some elements are even stacked upon each other to generate a higher output. Also the output depends on the material, PZT is the most interesting because it has a relatively very high current output (4). This material is therefore used as elements in the table. This interest, mainly supported by the sustainable vision we currently have and the possibility to generate power where no power can be supplied to application (e.g. wireless sensors on airplane wings) has created several applications (e.g. the sustainable dance floor (which is later equipped with magnets and coils)).

Other possibilities of energy harvesting are electromagnetic and photovoltaic energy transformation where the last one is mostly used in the form of solar cells. The first one is mostly known as the dynamo on your bicycle. This one has the disadvantage of being fairly big while only transforming around 25% of the mechanical energy into electrical energy. Solar energy is used quite a lot these day, the efficiency of the panels improved enormously over the years and there are even panels which could harvest sunlight indoors. Both ways of energy harvesting are sustainable and are solutions towards alternative energy sources. Therefore both energy harvesting methods are implemented in the table. The power generation of solar cells lies in perfect conditions around 1000

watt per square meter. The energy generation of piezo electric elements lies somewhat lower, around 100 milliwatts per element. (4) Adding all elements together they can charge, in combination with solar cells, batteries to power small applications. Induction is also a part of the concept. Induction works as follows: two coils are placed closely together. When a current goes through one coil a magnetic field is generated. The second coil, which is put closely to the other coil, catches this magnetic field and transforms this magnetic field into a current. Project Goals | During this project I developed a system which harvests energy from humans and energy from the sun. Implemented in a table. I used other ex-

isting energy harvesting methods and combined the elements and theories into my own system (see reference list). The main problem during this development is the unpredictable result the system has. This depends on several factors, namely: the quality of the material used, the thickness/length/width of the beams, the force and repetition of the mechanical energy applied. I started first form a pressure point of view, to generate energy by using the pressure applied on the surface of the table. Although this seems logically, it generates too less energy because very high pressure is needed. Several experts advised me to look in to vibrations. The point of letting vibrate the elements seems therefore much more interest-

ing. This means that the energy is transformed into motion in the element. By the compression of each side when the element bends energy is generated and released. Technical configuration | The system works as follows: Energy is generated by vibration of the piezo elements and solar energy capturing by the solar cells. This energy is stored in a capacitor and this capacitor charges a battery. The elements are placed inside the surface of the table, and placed at a small distance from the top so the energy of the impacts will be optimally absorbed by the elements in order to let them vibrate (see image). The battery, which will be charged by the elements and solar cells, is placed inside

the leg of the table. The applications, light, charging and music all work by induction. There’s a small induction area on the center of the table where you can place the application on. There are 4 solar cells on top of the table, placed in the center where impacts rarely occur. In total there are 40 elements divided over the table, 20 on each side. This is done to capture each impact efficiently all over the table. 4 piezo stacks are placed on the four upper corners of the bench. They generate electricity by pressure applied by the sitting users when they move. A good prediction on what the system should generate is basically impossible because many different factors are involved, previously mentioned. The generated power should be tested.

piezo beam

solar cell


battery system

Double layer piezo beam, placed underneath the table surface

The table is hollow at the inside, this is to make room for the electronics. Underneath the top surface elements are attachted.


Project focus | What I want to do is to define a target group which fits the concept. I want to see what they like and how they live. Do they live in a certain context or do they have special hobbies? But mostly I’m interested in how the concept would place itself, which user does it attract and what are their characteristics. I can gather this information by talking (an interview) to design resellers, users, design experts and designers. Besides that I want to explore the context and applications of the table by observation and research, to find where the concept could add value. User Research Approaches and Findings As all products, this product should have a target group and a place where it can be sold. The concept ‘energy harvest-

ing table’ has several characteristics: It is a product which makes a statement, has a story and shows a vision. The product is placed, commercially, in a higher segment due too the high material costs of the technology. Basically it can be described as a ‘design-table’. Possible buyers must like such product with a vision, and are willing to pay for it. Moreover they want differentiate them selves with a unique product. Such a product would be sold at design-stores which would have multiple brands (not stores such as an Apple store, Muji or B&O store) like 0900-design. After a discussion with Industrial Design experts (15) about those characteristics, a bridge was made with 0900-design. In order to verify the previous mentioned characteristics I interviewed P. de Boom,

co-owner of 0900-design. Their clients can be described as enjoyers of life, which rather have a good bottle of wine then 10 normal ones. Also students buy there with money which they saved up. Most of them are adventurous and look for unique products with a story, thus the perceived quality needs to be high. 70% of their customers are between 25 and 45 year old. Most of all the customers live ‘consciously’ and are well aware of todays society and trends. They like products with a story, a vision. Products which are conversation topics. The characteristics, unique selling points, of the table match with the ‘needs’ of design loving and buying customers. I wanted to find out what actually happens at a table. During the assignment

Co-Reflection I explored with users what they actually did at a table. As previous mentioned, their activities suited my three areas of use: Leisure, Work, Eating. Although these are areas of use, there are also contexts of use. Restaurant In a restaurant a lot of human-table interaction takes place, where people dine intensively throughout the day. Interesting ideas can be created to support the restaurant in its service towards the customer but also to support the restaurant personal in their function/efficiency or even to reduce energy costs. Therefore the table can act in three supportive ways which is commercially interesting for the restaurant as they can deviate from others. Six contexts were defined by

me to be investigated. A small summary: Home The home environment is particularly interesting because of its commercial value. Much interaction in different categories of use take place hourly. As it showed from observation every 9 seconds a significant impact takes place on the table while ‘working’ on it. Outside The outside is very interesting because usually there’s no direct access to power. The outside table could generate ambience during activities such as barbecuing or relaxing with friends. Work The desk is, unconsciously, used a lot

during office hours. People type, use the mouse, draw, write, move their limbs, etc. Much mechanical energy is lost during this day, still there are several workspaces which have their own interactions. Although this surface is only used during working hours. Counter A shop counter/table is placed at several central areas where people pay for the goods. During opening hours the table is intensively used because people place many products on them during opening hours. This is only at shops which run. Therefore this could be an interesting context to develop an application for. Possible applications are, again, light and energy for a cash register or a pin machine.

Bar Interesting application would be to integrate the table in some kind of bar shape. This is usually a surface where people can sit behind or get their drinks from. Generally the interaction on the bar is from leaning, placement of glasses or food. The bar will be used during opening hours with a variable intensity. Although this is not a product for consumers it is something where the bar can deviate itself. Kitchen In a kitchen professional cooks work, they chop and do all kinds of actions on surfaces. The surface is touched intensively in a professional kitchen. A vibe of performance is present in such areas, where maybe applications could

enhance this. It could power timers, or other small electronic applications in the kitchen like lights or actuators which give feedback to the user on certain action. For visuals see Appendix c.

As it is a collaboration with Bureau CQ we decided to look further on three contexts with the most commercial value: Restaurant, Home environment and Outside. For these contexts the table can be mass produced and sold by retailers. The first two contexts were explored with users through the assignment co-reflection. The goal was to find suitable applications ideas (or values) for these con-

texts. I concluded from the user needs that most suited applications are simple and ‘obvious’. Most ideas and needs involved ambience creating applications like light and sound. The outside was chosen as final context for the table on several unique points: It has the highest added value, because there is no direct power access outdoors. It has sunlight, an interesting sustainable energy source This context connects technology, user and nature all together There is no real innovative outdoor furniture The concept can also be applied as street furniture at gas stations etc. Combining these decision points with the user needs the following ‘obvious’ applications were developed: Light, mu-

sic and charging. Light and music address the user needs of ambience creating applications. Charging addresses the need of a functional application. There is one problem, users usually don’t ‘use’ a table when being outside. Users will relax at the table or move away from it. In order to keep the user close to the table the seats are fixed to the legs, moreover this gives extra stability. During my observations on table use by taping and analyzing the video on the amount of ‘significant impacts’ by the user. I concluded that on average each 9 seconds a user will generate a significant impact on the table. Given the anthropomorphic charts created by NASA (13) you can conclude that significant forces are generated by the users limbs.


Book 1. Philips, PiezoCeramics, 2003 Conference paper 2.Kim, S. Low power energy harvesting with piezoelectric generators. University of Pittsburg, 1996 3. Parker, M. Ambient Energy Harvesting. The Univeristy of Queensland, 2003 4. Sodano, H.; Inman, D.; Park, G. Comparison of piezoelectric energy harvesting devices for re charging batteries, Journal of intelligent material systems and structures, 2005, Vol. 16, p. 799 807. 5. McNair, B. Piezoelectric based energy harvesting, 2008 6. Fisher, F. Piezoelectric-based application development, A senior report, 2008, Stevens Institute of Technology. 7. Howells, C. Piezoelectric energy for soldier system, ?, US Army CERDEC C2D 8. Tayahi, M. Piezoelectric generator powering remote sensing networks, ?, University of Nevada. 9. Minazara, E.; Vasic, D.; Costa, F. Piezoelectric generator harvesting bike vibrations energy to supply portable devices, ?, Universite de Cergy-Pontoise 10. Morgan Electro Ceramics, Piezo High Voltage Generators 11. Arms, S; Townsend, C.; Churchill, D.; Galbreath, J.; Mundell, S. Power management for energy harvesting wireless sensors, 2005, MircroStrain Inc. 12. Sosnicki, O.; Lherment, N.; Claeyssen, F. Vibration energy harvesting in aircraft using piezoelectric actuators, 2006, Cedrat Technologies. 13. NASA, Anthropometry 14. Amec, Energy harvesting from piezoelectric composites, 2006 Personal communication 15. Bouman, A. Personal communication on designing. 2009 16. Goossens, G. Personal communication on solar energy. 2009 17. Pot, M. Personal communication on chinese manufacturers. 2009 18. Schaijk, R. van. Personal communication on energy harvesting. 2009 19. Schellens, H. Personal communication on energy harvesting. 2009 20. Roosegaarde, D. Personal communication on energy harvesting. 2009 21. Cottaar, A. Personal communication on electronics. 2009. 22. Ken. Personal communication on Chinese components. 2009 23. Kunzmann, J. Personal communication on energy harvesting. 2009 24. Tomico, O. Personal communication on user involvement. 2009 25. Taya, M. Personal communication on energy harvesting. 2009 26. Boom, P. de. Personal communication on target group. 2009

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