Resident 01 Sep 2020

A shoe that produces electricity to charge mobile devices

Alex Witty is in his third year of Industrial Design at Brighton University, although I caught up with him (virtually) from his home just outside of Bath. He is also one of our Residents here at The Studio. You may be wondering, Brighton Uni? What’s that got to do with The Studio in Bath? Fear not, I will explain.

Humble hockey

Alex grew up in the Bath area and began playing hockey at Bath Spa’s main campus, where he got to know some of the creatives working there. Since then, he has been collaborating with a few of these creatives on his newest project – a portable charging shoe.

“It’s essentially a smart shoe that generates electricity and phone charge from your own footsteps.”

In Alex’s eyes, cables are a thing of the past. He aims to integrate technological self-sufficiency by using the energy produced by your movement as you walk to charge your phone – possibly the most intriguing form of renewable energy to date!

Combatting low battery anxiety

Yes, you heard me, it’s a thing. Although it’s not recognised as an anxiety disorder (don’t worry, I am not suggesting you go to therapy over the stress of your phone’s dying battery), a study in 2016 found that 90% of participants reported some degree of discomfort or panic when their phone reached 20% or under. You can read more about the study conducted by LG.

No judgement, we’ve all felt it, and it’s no wonder considering the majority of our lives are monitored and managed from our phones – emails, socialising etc. So, let’s not panic about this.

But anxiety aside, another reason Alex wanted to develop this project was that as phone prices increase, more and more people can’t justify the price difference for simple changes to the phone’s systems or a better camera. As more and more software updates are produced – what are we on now, iOS13.4 or something? – the more toll it’s putting on our batteries, which are getting greyer and greyer by the second. So, Alex hopes that this new shoe will be a sustainable way of powering our phones.

Partnering with SWCTN

The South West Creative Technology Network (SWCTN), of which Bath Spa is a collaborator, is a £6.5 million project aimed at expanding the use of creative technologies in the South West. Alex got in touch with Rachel Pownall, a Knowledge Exchange Manager at SWCTN, and she told him about the grants that the SWCTN and Bath Spa were offering to creatives to help kick-start their projects. He successfully applied and was later introduced to Abigail Branagan, The Studio Manager, and Kate Pullinger our Director.

When Alex decided to spend his placement year from Brighton here in Bath, he also got in touch with SETsquared, an enterprise partnership comprised of the University of Bath (separate from Bath Spa), the University of Exeter, Bristol University, Southampton and Surrey. They were also keen to help him on his way. With this all in mind, The Studio became the perfect place to begin his project.

“All in all, I was quite fortunate that friends I had in Bath and the Bristol area could help me. I probably wouldn’t have been able to do that in Brighton or anywhere else for that matter.”

For Alex, entrepreneurship has always been a career that he’s wanted to chase, having great respect for those around him who have also used their skills in this area to develop and progress projects.

“I’ve always had this idea in my mind, if I didn’t try it, I’d be sort of beating myself up about it. Even if nothing comes of this, it’s a learning curve, and I can happily say I’ve given it a shot at 22.”

In terms of what the future holds for Alex, graduation is the next thing on the agenda. Beyond that, he hopes to develop his own company – which he’s already started up, might I add – and generally get his feet on the ground in all the ways a newly graduated adult does. But his main goal is to get something into the public eye that he is proud of.

It was a pleasure talking to Alex, and who knows, maybe there’ll be some new shoes for you to buy in the future; but, for now, and until next time.

Find out more about Alex’ Residency here.

Gemma Wynton