I don’t know why but the way brakes on cars, bikes, etc. has always puzzled me. For nearly all breaking systems in the world the main way they work is by converting your car’s kinetic energy (I.E. its movement) into heat through high friction pads attached to the wheel. This means that, for all practical purposes, the energy that went into creating said movement is unrecoverable and reduces the overall efficiency of the system. I figured that there had to be a better way to do it, one that would at least recover some of the energy lost in order to make all forms of transport more efficient.
Such a system became available with the first electric cars through a system called regenerative braking. The system comprises of a small generator that is attached to an axle or wheel hub that is engaged when braking is applied. This is then fed back into the battery, recharging it and extending the range of the vehicle. These systems are quite large however but I always envisioned some sort of system that could be scaled to fit transportation of any size, and someone has come up with it:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shPgLBlBABc
It’s really quite ingenious in its simplicity: braking spins the flywheel which functions as a kind of mechanical battery which can then be used on demand. Of course for a retail system you’d probably want to encase the flywheel in something, for both safety and efficiency purposes, as whilst flywheels are usually safe they can be rather destructive should anything mess with them. Still such a system could be easily scaled up, down or horizontally (use several in one vehicle) to suit almost any application.
There are some issues of course, ones that became painfully apparently back when several countries experimented with a scaled up version of this in the form of the Gyrobus. Granted these were using the flywheels as the sole power source so most of these issues are diminished at lower scales but all the concerns that applied to them still apply to the scaled down versions. Most of these can be overcome though and it will be interesting to see how the idea develops from here.
This is just another example of innovations that should be everywhere. The idea is so simple that it makes me wonder what’s stopping companies from pursuing this idea themselves, like there’s something that I’m not aware of. I’m sure the safety aspect plays a big role but a properly designed and secured flywheel is no more dangerous than a battery of similar size. I’m sure that videos like the one above will inspire companies to look into the idea more closely and hopefully start producing vehicles that are far more efficient than the ones they produce today.