"I wish to suggest that a man may be very industrious, and yet may not spend his time well," wrote Henry David Thoreau a century and a half before his society had stuffed its white-collar workers into cubicles with computers. His point, made as part of a longer series of lectures, boiled down to the notion that if you don't sustain yourself with love for what you do, whatever you're doing might be sort of worthless—or worse, without principle or enjoyment.
People who move back to the land to devote themselves to active living are often considered Luddites in our fast-paced modern age. But white-collar office workers don't have to those extremes to at least enjoy their desk work, or participate (to some degree) in the movement. A pair of best friend engineers in upstate New York are Kickstarting a campaign to open-source their dynopods—or pedal-powered work surfaces—that use the power from your legs to charge anything from a smoothie maker to a laptop.
"Bikes are the most efficient transportation machines by far, by an order of magnitude of 10," lead Pedal Power engineer and avid cyclist Andy Wekin says. So when a group of families in Burlington, Vermont, came to his business partner Steve Blood and asked him to help them build an intentional community with localized energy sources, he naturally thought of pedal power.
Blood and Wekin now have two designs, the Big Rig and the Pedal Genny, that use bicycle technology to power lightbulbs, blenders, applesauce makers, grain mills, and different types of chargers. If the Kickstarter campaign is successful, they'll be able to fine-tune the designs with a larger community of makers, and produce more.
If funding exceeds their original goals, Wekin is looking to make a quieter version with rubber belts that can be used in an office setting. He's also tinkering with something like an upright, pedal-powered stairmaster that can be folded up and stored in apartment cabinets for kitchen uses—coffee grinding, butter churning, or whatever artisanal activities the kids are up to these days.
The organizing principle is to make people more energy conscious, Wekin says. "For me, if everyone in the United States could ride on one of these things and feel what it's like to turn on the TV, or flip on the light switch, or turn on a video game, I think it would change how we use energy," he said. "We self-flagellate sometimes about our carbon footprint, but we don't even realize what that means."
Of course, the Big Rig and Pedal Genny can't do everything efficiently. If you want to brew a cup of coffee or toast something, heating devices require far more energy than someone would likely expend on a bike. The current designs also don't necessarily take into account the average tabletop height, which could end up being a knee-bumping issue.
But other functionalities are surprisingly breezy. The average adult, after all, can generate 75 watts in two hours, which can charge a laptop for 3 to 6 hours or phone for 30 to 40. "Cellphones are easy," Wekin said.