May 22, 2013 at 3:48 PM ET
Cellphones, MP3 players and — one day — artificial heart pumps may get charged up as their owners walk or run around in a pair of electricity-generating shoes designed by college kids.
The shoes join a growing list of wearable energy-harvesting devices from a knee brace, and backpack, to other shoes envisioned as a way to keep gadgets carried by everyone from soldiers in the field to kids on the go supplied with electricity.
The students' device is installed in the sole of the shoe. "Every time you take a step, a lever arm is compressed, which runs a gear train … that runs a small motor that generates electricity and charges a battery pack," team member David Morilla, a senior in mechanical engineering at Rice University, told NBC News.
The team's prototype device, called the PediPower, delivers an average of 400 milliwatts of power, enough to charge a battery, though the students see it as simply a proof-of-concept.
"We know these values can be increased greatly, there is a lot of room for improvement," Morilla said.
He and his teammates expect the project to be picked up by another team at Rice in the fall. Their goal will be to shrink the size and boost the power output, which will bring PediPower closer to the goal of keeping a cellphone or MP3 player working while a person is out and about for the day.
The project was sponsored by Cameron, a Houston-based company that is developing an artificial human heart and is looking for a power source that is reliable and always available. Assuming patients with these hearts are healthy enough to walk around, the shoe could provide the energy they need.
To learn more about the project, check out the video below.
John Roach is a contributing writer for NBC News. To learn more about him, visit his website.