Many trains make light work

One of the most exciting things about TRIZ and of course Innovation Boosters are for me their application in the green evolution. Thanks to @ellendomb on twitter for highlighting this terrific example from Gizmag.com.

The problem is that

speeding trains generate quite a bit of wind as they whoosh past

TRIZ teaches you to do a functional analysis of the entire ‘system’ and highlight the benefits (in green) and the harms (in red). So for example

the seat [SUBJECT] comforts the passenger [OBJECT] = BENEFIT

the engine [SUBJECT] moves the train [OBJECT] = BENEFIT

the body of the train [SUBJECT] pushes air onto the lines [OBJECT] = HARM

The challenge is therefore on to reduce this harmful flow of air, or at the very least turn it into a benefit.

In this example a second problem exists in that very remote villages electricity is very expensive to generate for simple applications like a light for a child to read and study beneath.

This is where analysing the problem in time and scale becomes so powerful as solving either the train problem or the village problem in isolation could be expensive. How about we treat the village together with its occasional whooshing trains as a supersystem. Now the whooshing wind becomes a resource.

An ingenious solution would be one which solves the problem using only available resources and uses the harm of one system (the train) to the benefit of the other (the remote village). Or indeed treat the village with occasional whooshing trains as a single supersystem.

Anyway, Hoorah to Qian Jiang and Alessandro Leonetti Luparini, two industrial designers, who have come up with a device that’s installed between the sleepers on a track, and as the train passes overhead, the wind drives a turbine to generate electricity.

If you look through the images in the report here it is clear that Qian and Alessandro are well aware of the storytelling component to selling the application of their invention. So it just leaves me to say well done, and wouldn’t it be amazing if we could use the power of TRIZ and Innovation Boosters to deliver many more ideas like this.

On a lighter note: It has always struck me that flushing a lavatory on the 14th floor of a London skyscraper is a real waste of energy. A large waterwheel could be erected on the side of the building and all the workers could go home with a bag of freshly ground flour on an evening.

On an even lighter note: Yesterday I was waiting at a railway crossing and as the East Coast train passed my phone jumped into action and said ‘wifi available’. If we could slow these whooshing trains down as they pass remote villages we would provide vital wifi access, but of course the power supply would drop to re-charge the phones.

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2 Comments

  1. Hi Ron, an intriguing idea, but I think you and Ellen would need to consider the whole system carefully, as you have left out some harmful functions in your idea. The air pushed aside by the train can ‘do some work’ as it moves from a high pressure area to a lower pressure area, and the train benefits most when that work done is ‘move air out of the way’. If you generate electricity by using the high pressure to low pressure system then the train will end up having to work harder to move the air out of the way. You would need to construct some kind of wind tunnel that assists the train in its passage and also generates electricity. For this you would need a wind tunnel to test models.
    This is a bit like de Bono’s ideas, they are great starters, they shift your thinking, but the model still needs work. It may be that the train company works out that the PR for offering ‘free electricity to the poor’ is worth the extra fuel, but that would not make it green, necessarily. The train company could have given away the extra fuel cost to the local villagers and then they could generate and use electricity when they want to, rather than store it in batteries, with consequent loss.
    But I agree with your theme, TRIZ and other solution finding tools could be used to help generate LOCAL solutions to LOCAL problems, but they tend to be used to generate macro solutions to macro problems. Micro crop generation systems should enable those with low power and water and nutrient resources to grow food more efficiently, food in a box. The train could then pick up excess production and sell it at distant markets.

  2. Hi Graham

    I totally agree with all the difficulties you mention and I couldn’t help thinking that if the train companies improved the train (somewhere down the line) the useful excess wind power might be rendered useless.
    I just find the principles and ideas intriguing and great to stimulate further ingenious thinking.
    Thanks again for all your comments

    Cheers, Ron

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