Pavegen is on a mission to upgrade the ground you walk on. The U.K. clean-tech startup has engineered a high tech flooring product that can generate enough energy to power lights and even buildings by harnessing kinetic energy from pedestrians walking on it.
The surface is also sensitive to where people are walking, and how many pedestrians are in a given area, so the company is hoping to create a data-analytics software business to go with its high tech underfoot hardware — hardware which could, for instance, tell subway travelers where to stand on a platform to get into the least busy carriage before the train arrives.
Pavegen’s current flooring product can be used indoors or outdoors in high traffic areas, and generates electricity from pedestrian footfall using an electromagnetic induction process. The technology is patented and the company has just done its hundredth installation, according to founder and CEO Laurence Kemball-Cook.
Today it’s launching a campaign on Crowdcube with the aim of raising £750,000 or more to keep scaling a business that has been beavering away for several years, with plans to ramp up its headcount and operations.
“We’re sitting right at the middle of the hardware space. I started the idea as a sketch. I guess we’re creating an industry. We had no blueprints or market to follow — we had to create it, so… there was a lot of figuring out to do and core engineering behind the product,” Kemball-Cook tells TechCrunch. “We’ve had to figure out each market and make it fit for that. It was a tremendous challenge.”
“Right now today we’ve got a team of 25 in the U.K. We’ve got operations set up in nine different regions in the world… And we’ve deployed [Pavegen] in 30 countries so we’ve got a bit of scale already.”
The product is best suited to transport hubs where a large flow of people will pass over it. The largest deployment the company has done so far is in a (non-standard sized) football pitch in a Favela in Rio de Janiro to help power the floodlights around the pitch. Other installations include in Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia, and at London’s Heathrow airport. It’s also today put up a temporary installation outside London’s Canary Wharf station powering two streetlights with the aim of raising awareness about the technology and its crowdfunding campaign.
Pavegen was founded back in 2009, beginning as a concept bootstrapped by Kemball-Cook in his bedroom before he took in a friends and family round of around £100,000 in late 2010. That was followed by a £450,000 seed in 2012. The startup has been generating revenue since then — taking in more than £2.5 million in total to date — and was even profitable in 2013. But now plans to expand operations and headcount to scale the business to meet demand for its energy-generating tiles.
The goal is to reduce the cost of the kinetic flooring until it’s the same price as “normal flooring”, as Kemball-Cook puts it. Whereas the price per unit now is currently around the same price as high end train station flooring (so circa £300 per unit).
How exactly does Pavegen generate substantial amounts of energy from footfall? Kemball-Cook says it’s a combination of electromagnetic induction and flywheel energy storage technology which maximizes the energy generated — allowing for a system that generates watts of energy per footstep.
“Storing energy within the inertia of a flywheel is a highly efficient way to take maximum power out of things,” he says. “So we’re really maximizing the amount [of energy] we can get. And we’re getting up to 7 watts per footstep pedestrian… We’ve combined several engineering principles in a way that’s never been done before. That allows us to capture all the energy from a footstep and then to maintain momentum in a flywheel through the duration of the footsteps.”
The design of Pavegen’s energy generation system means the product won’t work everywhere — a dusty corner of your kitchen isn’t going to yield enough footfall flow, for instance. But plenty of other locations can, such as busy pavements, hallways, transport terminals, corridors, public squares and so on. The company also has a division focused on temporary installations working with brands to serve marketing scenarios — such as, for instance, laying the product on a shopping street or during a marathon.
“If we put around 20 meters of Pavegen on Oxford Street in London we would generate more than enough power that’s needed for all the street lighting along that stretch. So A 20 meter array could kick out in the region of 1,500 watts. And we have systems that can do megawatts, so we’re getting into that space of what solar can do,” he adds.
Last year an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to build a road paving product that generates power from solar energy raised more than $2.2 million. A solar cycleway also opened in the Netherlands in 2014. And while Pavegen’s first product is designed for pedestrian contact, not cars, the company is also looking to get into that space next.
“Next for us will be road technology. We know it’s harder but we’ve learnt a lot in deploying it in so many different countries,” says Kemball-Cook. He pours some cold water on the solar roads concept, arguing that a kinetic product will prove more economical and reliable as an energy-generating source in areas where there is high traffic flow than using solar.
“I think there’s some really big issues around maintenance and durability of solar panels on roads that I don’t think it will ever pay back in a way that will make it tangible. So I don’t believe that covering every single road in the world in solar panels would be a good idea economically. I think it would be really good for driveways in people’s houses and corporate headquarters but when you look at the cost base for it vs a normal road the economics don’t quite add up.”
Nearer term, Kemball-Cook sees retail being a big market for Pavegen’s initial product, given the added customer intelligence it can offer — based on in-store footfall tracking and analytics. In this scenario, the high tech flooring can act like iBeacon real-time tracking technology but without the need for batteries to power it.
We can actually tell a retailer in real-time that everyone walking in is going left… and how people are moving in different places.
“The way we look at it is we’re a deployable power source that doesn’t need batteries. It’s not like an iBeacon where you’ve got to put batteries in every two years and hope that people remember to put them in and all that. We can be a data hub that’s self-powered, with a computer in it, that can just be put in the ground and forgotten about and it can run all your services off it. And that’s what we’re really excited about,” he says. “We can actually tell a retailer in real-time that everyone walking in is going left… and how people are moving in different places.”
Looking further ahead, the startup has serious ambitions — gunning for mass global adoption of its kinetic flooring product, and becoming part of a renewable energy mix in urban centers where there is, after all, no shortage of footfall. The next pedestrian is ever just around the corner.
“We’ve spent the past few years really figuring it out. The technology has been really difficult. Lots of research has been taking place to allow us to get to the point where we have a product now. Our vision is that we can be deployed across, in mass, every major city in the world in every country. We aim to be a household name and to be working with every large flooring company, supplying energy technology to go within it. We believe we can break the £200 million revenue mark up to the next five years,” he adds.