Piezoelectric Photo Station Lands at Hartsfield-Jackson

Georgia Tech has been selected as the 2016 recipient of the Sustainability Innovation Award at the GreeningATL Excellence Awards luncheon. This recognition honors an organization that uses groundbreaking technologies to find solutions to environmental issues and implements sustainable policies to reduce its environmental impact. The piezoelectric carpet, which was key to creating the People-Powered Selfie Stations used at ATL, has ignited a firestorm of interest, passenger engagement and conversation on how to apply this technology more broadly at the Airport.

Travelers making their way through the atrium and selected concourses at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport will be able to take a picture in a photo station powered by human motion. The technical mechanism, called piezoelectricity (PZ), couples mechanical stress or vibrations to electrical energy (electricity). This clean, renewable energy generation method is being developed for applications such as harnessing vehicle vibrations under roadways, foot traffic underneath walkways, and various other wasted daily human movements.
The interactive system, dubbed People-Powered Photo Station, is the creation of a team of researchers from the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) and the Georgia Tech College of Architecture and School of Mechanical Engineering along with high school interns participating in Tech’s Project ENGAGES (Engaging New Generations at Georgia Tech through Engineering and Science).
The photo station uses piezoelectric material to generate energy. The PZ material is embedded in carpet tiles that form the system’s floor, which is coupled to its camera. Attached is a series of 8-foot tall acrylic cylinders that contain multi-colored, programmable LED lights. The lights are programmed to respond to movement on the PZ carpet tiles. Once the tiles are activated, the cylinders will illuminate. And the illumination will increase until enough light is available to take a photo, which can then be instantly shared on social media via the station’s tablet interface.
“We were approached by Liza Milagro, senior sustainability planner at the airport, and asked if we could utilize our developing technology to demonstrate the potential of harvesting energy through biomechanical motion in an approachable and entertaining method,” said Dr. Ilan Stern, project director and GTRI research scientist. “We saw this as a great opportunity to share with the public some of the applications of this underutilized energy harvesting method. As we continue to make great strides towards a more sustainable future, decreasing our energy footprint is paramount.”
The PZ station is part of the airport’s “Greening Atlanta” campaign that promotes the creation and adoption of green, sustainable technologies and business practices, as well as its push to incorporate the youth of surrounding neighborhoods.
In its third year at Georgia Tech, the Project ENGAGES high school science education program is conducted in partnership with Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy, B.E.S.T Academy, KIPP Atlanta Collegiate, and Benjamin E. Mays High School, four minority-serving public high schools in Atlanta.
“We are proud to continue to demonstrate the capabilities of young, talented high school students who hail from underrepresented schools in the STEM fields by having them contribute in critical technical areas of our projects,” said Stern.
Kavaunte Perry, an 11th grader at B.E.S.T. Academy, worked on construction and design of the photo station. An aspiring mechanical engineer with his sights on the automotive design industry, Perry said he believes the project, which was a demonstration of making design more functional, should help him with his future career goals.
Fellow B.E.S.T. 11th graders Dionte West and Adam Keys worked on implementing the piezoelectric elements into the station’s tiles.
A future astrophysicist, West said he was inspired by Dr. Stern, who himself is an astrophysicist. “I wouldn’t have thought an astrophysicist could do something like this, and it opened my eyes to the fact that you can be interdisciplinary in whatever you want to do.”
Keys said working on the project was eye-opening for him, too. “Being a part of the Project ENGAGES program and its engineering component, I had a basic idea of engineering and what I wanted to do. But learning about piezoelectricity and the different aspects of renewable energy is really interesting and opened my eyes to new things.”
Funding for the photo station was provided by the airport’s Sustainability Project and the Georgia Center of Innovation for Energy Technology. The carpet tiles and camera were donated by Interface and OMG Booth, respectively.


Project contact: Ilan Stern