Hacking Energy


Henry Bailey

The final coil winder consists of a free-wheel wire stand, the coiling mechanism, and a control panel that resets the system, turns it on and off, and adjusts the speed. In about one to two minutes, you have a perfect coil. All you have to do is put a piece of paper on the coil taker, and enter how wide a coil you want (in mm) into the program and run it. It has a fantastic potential as a handy workshop tool for coiling any thin wires. If stronger motors were added it could coil stronger wires, such as steel. Its a simple and effective tool for making coils. The whole thing is customizable to the different sized coils. Its also very simple to operate with just switches. The coils can be taken out and changed for a fresh wind in seconds.


Final Product in action!

Julia Schwartz


Sydney Gad

On  the first day of this studio we learned about hackers and lighting a light bulb. Before our first class I only knew hackers to be people who hacked into websites, but Sean showed us that another thing hackers do is use old objects and tools to create energy efficient products. We watched a video on a guy who made an emergency cell phone charger out of a few simple products in his home. Another activity we did was lighting different types of light bulbs. We learned how the watts and voltage of a battery affects the brightness of a bulb. 

The first day was just the starting point for Julia and I's project. We started off by deciding to make a cell phone crank that would attach to a phone case. We soon realized the cell phone crank wouldn't be as useful and it would be more complicated to make because in order to charge the phone the generator and the gear box would need to be very big. We decided to switch our project to a small movable wind turbine because it can produce more voltage. It is also much more versatile. For example you can use it while riding your bike and clip it onto your backpack straps. This will generate energy that you can use to charge a cell phone. 

Over the two weeks we made numerous prototypes to test which size and material would work best. We used sketch-up to create the blades and all the other components to create the wind turbine and then downloaded it onto the laser cutter software to print it out. We finally made a small wind turbine out of a clear plastic material. The prototype looked great and functioned well, but it did not create enough energy to power a phone, or even a lightbulb. We realized the wind turbine needed to be much bigger in order for it to light even an LED. The most challenging part of our project was figuring out the perfect size to make the blades. We made countless number of blades and center parts for the blades to lye on. The most surprising part of this project was realizing how difficult it actually is to create a wind turbine. We needed to measure out every little detail, from the length of the blades to the circumference of the screw holes. Although we did not end up having the wind turbine charge a cell phone, I am still very proud of our work and dedication we put into our project.   

Once we decided we needed to make bigger blades we went ahead onto sketch up and started by resizing them. In the end we did not only rescale them to a larger size but made them thinner! we did this because if one looks at commercial wind turbines you will notice that they are thin and long. After taking a very long time on figuring out how to fit the three blades onto a sheet of poly carbonate we ended up with 3 nice long blades. We next used a heat blower, which is pretty much a hair dryer except it can go up to 100 degrees F. So we went ahead and used the heat blower to soften the plastic so we could bend it over somewhat. This made the blades more aerodynamic, and they picked up the wind much better than the initial flat blades. 

Another enhancement we made from our prototype was adding small holes to each blades where we could weave in and out the aluminum wire to eliminate the amount of hot glue we used on our prototype. We found out that the amount of hot glue we used to paste the aluminum wiring onto each blade really ended up weighting down the whole machine, and also made it look messy. With the new holes, the blades looked much sleeker! In terms of motors we ended up using a servo motor instead of a stepper motor, the servo motor had its own gear box and generated more voltage which we needed.

Julia Schwartz:

In the beginning Sydney and I planned on making our own motor, but ran out of time sadly. Also when we started using the stepper motor we had to use diodes to convert the DC current to AC so we could light a light bulb, but with this new servo motor we didn't need any diodes at all! After weaving through all the aluminum wire, which took surprisingly quite a lot of effort we managed to put the top half of our wind turbine together! We tested our just the top half of or wind turbine and we were quite surprised to find out it was able to light up a LED, However we noticed that the turbine wasn't spinning as fast as we wanted it to, so we tried putting on an older smaller prototype that has worked fine in the middle of the big turbine, to give it an extra boost and surprisingly it worked perfectly! Just the morning we were able to resize the original base we had for our smaller prototype to be 3ft tall so it could hold our huge new face! We also had to make a new hole for the motor because we ended up switching the motors! After a good amount of annoyance and time we were able to get sketch up to do what we wanted and we resized the new base perfectly and printed it out onto a nice big piece of plywood just in time for presentations! I'd say that Sydney and I were both quite happy with the outcome we had even though we weren't able to charge and iPhone the fact that we were able to make a functioning wind turbine was pretty impressive I thought at least!



Henry Bailey


Alternative energy devices require generators with many small copper wire coils: These coils are tedious and difficult to make.


The Coil Winder! It’s an automatic wire coiling device that takes the stress out of creating those difficult little coils.


The final coil winder consists of a free-wheel wire stand, the coiling mechanism, and a controll panel that resets the system, turns it on and of, and adjusts the speed. In about one to two minutes, you have a perfect coil. All you have to do is put a piece of paper on the coil taker, and enter how wide a coil you want (in mm) into the program and run it.


At the beginning of our studio there was a presentation on the rudimentary workings of motors, generators, and magnets. We learned that in order to have a successful generator, you need these tightly wound copper coils in order conduct the current that pushes the electrons through the system. We thought to ourselves that it is far too tedious a process to create these coils by hand or not accurate enough to do with a drill. So we decided to make something that the whole studio could use in the making or their generators for the alternative energy design.  The original plan was actually to have this be a side project but we soon realised that it was impossible to give this the full attention necessary and still create the kinetic energy generator we originally thought up. We thought about the process of “hacking” that Sean had mentioned in the presentation. Hacking is simply taking something that does most of what you want it to do and modify it so that it is tailored specifically to the job at hand. Sean showed us a fantastic open source device called the Egg Bot, a stepper motor and servo system that makes designs on eggs and other oddly shaped objects. We saw an excellent opportunity for a hack. After printing out the open source DXF in foam we assembled the structure and began to think about what changes needed to be made.

We took an extra copy of the back panel and place it closer to the front so that the two motors could parallel to each other on opposite sides. This allows one motor to wind the coil while the other guides the wire up and down the parallel spool. After we were sure of our idea we took the next step which was to cut the structure out of wood.This proved to be easy enough and we set up the steppers in the formation we wanted.After that the challenge of programming came. As a complete novice to the world of programming Alex stepped up as an invaluable part to this. We measured out how many “steps” it would take for the motor to move our threader back and forth along the spool. We then figured out how many steps it would take to move the spool one mm, and made a 2-variable system so that the distance the spool moves could easily be changed. We ended up 3d printing our own custom joint after much difficulty making an effective one conventionally. Alex then, with minimal help from Sean, Jacob, and me, successfully was able to run the motors in harmony so that when the thread reached the end of the spool, it would reverse and was able to make a solid, tight coil. After a trial with fishing wire we were able to move onto copper wire.This marked a major landmark in our journey and after that we assembled the whole thing. It uses a system of a thin slip of paper wrapped around the motors shaft to easily slip off the finished coils. We cut out two small plastic disks to house the coils and after some tweaking were ready to move into coil production.I addressed the all important issue of how to hold up the actual copper wire that was being coiled and ended up going with a simple triangular tower design after some aid from Sean.Skateboard bearings were used to spin the wire as it was fed into the coiler. After that we simply sanded the whole thing, bolstered the design with extra glue, and added aesthetic touches, like a control panel. After returning from a brief time spent helping out the bike power group I was able to help Alex assemble the final product.

Tech Specs:

The coiler is powered by an Arduino and a motor shield with a series of switches and levers that control it.

If we had more time...

Our plan for the future is to compile all our design files into one single dxf that is completely open source. We want someone else to be able to find the same simplicity that we did with our hacking and also be able to create duplicates if necessary.


The coiler is a great alternative to...

  • Buying pre-coiled wire
  • Making your own coils with a drill
  • Making your own coils by hand


The Final Product

Samuel Radin

The design of the final support system became evident that using one tripod as a base was too weak. Using two tripods with a cross beam would work much better. However, in order to store more potential energy we wanted to add height. We decided to add long PVC pipes to the tripods. We used PVC for the cross beam and 90 degree PVC pipe attachments to create the final structure. Screws were installed into the 90 degree attachments to make them even more secure. Then, to reduce the movement of the vertical PVC, rolls of paper were coiled around the tripods–under the PVC pipes. This was done at the top and bottom of the tripods. The final design looked sturdy and was around 15 feet high.

The motor was a difficult to deal with. It worked well, but it was on a big block of wood that could not be placed anywhere very well. We created a slimmer piece of wood, but still did not know what to do with the motor. On the prototype, it was placed on the top of the structure, but installing it vertically on the lower part of the structure made it easily accessible. After testing it was concluded that it would be smarter and not less problematic to simply put it on the top as it was designed to be.

    The final addition to the structure was a hook that kept the weight at the top.  The locking system works only when the weight is at the top. There is a clip on separate wire that meets up with another clip near the bottom of the structure. By clipping the weight, potential energy is held until the user wants to unclip the weight and turn it into kinetic energy.


Samantha White

While working on the project, I learned a lot of skills that I can now use essentially for the rest of my life. I learned how to use tools like a vice grip, a wrench and a soldering iron. I also learned how to use architectural design software like Rhinoceros and Sketchup. Even though everything worked out pretty well in the end, if I had more time to work on this studio I would optimize the bike to increase efficiency. I would hope to make it so that the bike, without the battery to help, could charge a phone directly and without the use of incredibly fast, rigorous pedaling. To do this I would make the back gear smaller to increase the gear ratio, making it harder to pedal but also making it generate more power. Overall, I enjoyed this studio because of its hands-on nature and lack of strenuous restrictions in design ideas. I hope to do more work with creative alternative energy generation in the future.


Samantha White

The bike that we created uses human energy and converts it in ways that would be very helpful to an individual. Using magnets, wood and coils we were able to create a motor that attaches to the back of the bike. The purpose of this motor was to be able to charge a phone. At the end of the last day, our final product was finally able to indirectly charge a phone. When a battery is hooked up to the motor it will charge, and this battery can later be used to charge a phone. 

Final Product

Julia Schwartz

In the end Sydney and I were able to produce a windturbine about 3ft tall that can light up mulitple LED's when spun. Connected to the back of the windturbine we attached a motor that generates enough power to light to LED's. We ended up using bigger turbines then we intended to but it was clear that the bigger turbines were able to produce more engery. Overall Sydney and I were very happy with our outcome! 

The process

Christiana Panicucci


We started out the day brainstorming ideas. I had a hard time thinking of something at first, but when the idea hit me I knew it was perfect. I wanted to create an energy storing unit. I was not really sure how to make one, so I spent quite a bit of time googling ones that already exist. I found ones that use gas, water and other materials. I decided to make one that works with a weight and a motor. When electricity is put into the motor it causes the motor to spin. Coiling up a string that lifts a weight up into the air. The string gets wrapped around the motor storing the energy as gravitational potential energy. Then, the weight is pulled back down, by gravity, causing the string to unravel and the motor to spin in the opposite direction. This process releases the energy back out.

Before I could start to build and prototype I had to do a lot of calculations. I decided to make it around two meters tall. Then I wanted to figure out how much power I could produce. I wanted to see how big the weight would have to be to for one watt hour. To do this I had to convert watts to joules. Once I found the joules I could figure out the

PE (potential energy) by using the formula PE = MGH. It ended up being 183 kg. Considering that would be around 400 lbs, I decided to uses a 10 lbs weight instead. With this figured out I could begin to build my first prototype.

First Prototype:

The first prototype was built on top of a tripod used for cameras. It was a motor, with a gear ratio of 11:1, a string, a 10 lb weight and a hand crank to power it. This model worked great. After seeing if it would illuminate a light bulb, I did some tests to see how much energy was being stored. I used to multimeters to measure the volts and amps going in and out of the machine, and a stopwatch to see how long it took to coil up and down. It took in around 238 ws and put out around 18 ws. This made it 13 times inefficient. In hopes to make it more efficient I tried using a large gear ratio motor, and more weight. This made the device hold more energy, but it became 30 times more inefficient. In the end I decided that the efficiency of the first model was more important than the overall energy storage.

Bumps and Bruises on the way:

As with everything there were so pretty big structural problems with my system. Most of them were caused by the weight. When I started to experiment with larger weights everything started to break. First it was the string. So I tried fishing wire, but that broke too. I ended up having to use a steel cable. After I fixed the string problem the tripods platform broke. To fix this I designed many different versions of a platform for the motor rest on. The final version was made out of plywood. It has four holes in it for screws. Then a hole for the motor the rest in and a hole to guide the string through. I, also, experienced problems with the part of the motor the string wrapped around. To fix this I attached a longer thicker tube of metal. This was great, but it would get pulled on by the weight preventing the string from wrapping around properly. To fix this I created a rectangular piece of plywood with a circle in it. In the circle is a screw, that spins freely, and attaches to the metal piece. This can all be seen in the picture of the motor above. With this fixed I could move on to the final version.


Samantha White

When Sean showed the group different ways to create power using basic tools on the first day, we immediatly wanted to jump in and start creating. Innitially, we had the idea to create a giant hamster wheel which charges phones/computers when a person runs in it. Although this seemed like a fun idea, it would have been a very hard task to do. We then began to brainstorm other possible things we could do with energy. The group came up with an idea to put solar pannels on a backpack that charges your phone using sunlight. We also thought of creating a shoe that charges your phone when you walk. After all of these crazy ideas we finally settled on the idea to create a bike that charges an iphone. 

On the first day of building, we cleaned off an old bike that was already in the nuvu space. We then put a premade motor on the back of the bike to test out how it would work. After finding that the store bought motor would be able to charge a phone, we decided to create our own motor. We then looked up online different ways of creating a motor and finally settled on a design that resembles a wind turbine. This motor required many circles of wood with specific holes in them in order to secure the proper pieces. We used sketchup and the lazer cutter to create these circles. Originally, the holes in our circle were unproportional to the axel, so we had to start over. After we finally got the right measurements down, we printed out the circles in wood on the lazer cutter. We then carefully placed the magnents into the holes on the wooden circle making sure that they did not get to close to eachother. We then began creating the first coils that were put into the coil circle and tested out on a lightbulb. When attached to the bike this first prototype was able to light a lightbulb, but we wanted it to do more. 

During the second week we started out by redesigning the whole concept for the bike’s chassis. The new chassis design was pretty similar to the prior one however we sawed the handlebars and the front half of the bike off. After this change, the generators consisted of just the motor, axle, and pedals and back half of the chassis. Cutting the front half of the bike off made the remaining newly redesigned pedal generator more compact, portable and easier to use. One big issue we faced early in the project and that was the change and gears. The original chain on the bike did not fit on the new motors axle so we had to replace it with a new chain. This chain wasn’t long enough and it was rusty and it just caused a few problems.

The next step in our project was remaking and remodeling the coil-aspect of our homemade motor/generator. This unfortunately meant that we had to go back to Sketchup to make the design better. As it turned out, Sketchup didn’t even get the job done so we had to download the program Rhinoceros from the Internet. Rhinoceros is similar to Sketchup in the sense that it’s a design software that is capable of sending DXF files to the laser cutter for cutting; however, it’s different because it uses more precise measurements than Sketchup. Using Rhinoceros, with Sean’s help, we created a new design for the coil disc and stationary back plate. The new design included two layers of the coil disc that created a deeper space for the coils to rest in making them stay in better and not jumble around. We also put ball bearings in the center of each coil with directed the pull from the magnets towards the coil and allowed them to be more effective. With the optimized coil component in check, and our original magnet disc still functional, we began doing the wiring on the back of the motor. After soldering the wires to the end of the wound copper coils, we had to test the polarity of each set of wires using a strong magnet and a voltage meter. We added a few more optimizations to the coil disc like thin layers of protective plastic over the top and bottom of the disc to keep the coils from falling out and to keep the wires in place as well. Once the coil disc was as close to perfect as we could make it, we put the fully made motor on the half-bike-chassis and connected it, with the chain, to the axle. We then faced a new problem; the bike simple did not stand up on its own. To solve this problem, with the help of Henry Bailey and Sean, we made a stand out of wood, which kept the bike in place while the operator was pedaling it. The stand creation process caused some problems just like everything else in every project causes some problems. These problems centered around one common issue, which was that the bike was not a regular shape; it was bike-shaped. The awkward way a bike is shaped made it difficult to get it to fit into the wooden stand in an easy fashion. We then solved this problem by using the drill press to cut a 1.5’’ hole through the base 2x4 and then flipped the bike upside-down so that part of it could fit in the hole and it could stand up by itself with the help of some other additions to the stand. After a little bit of collaboration and testing, we were able to make the bike generator into something that could be used by an individual in a chair pedaling it. This created a much easier user experience.

On that Monday, it was time for us to add the final cosmetic touches and some last second optimizations. We, with Sean, hooked the wires up to a diode and through a rectifier that converted the energy being created from alternative current into direct current that could be used to say, charge a phone or a laptop. At the last second we decided that we were going to try to make the phone-charging aspect of the project really happen so we hooked the wires up to a USB port then plugged in the iPhone charger along with Kenzie’s iPhone. The bike, due to some inefficiency problems was unable to generate enough power to bring the phone to a charging state however we were able to work around this dilemma in the end. What we ended up doing was plug the bike into a rechargeable battery, which we were then able to plug into the phone and cause it to charge. In the end, the PowerBike© did actually do what we originally intended it to do in that it, according to the transitive property, charged a phone. Even though we faced some problems over the duration of the studio, in the end everything pretty much worked out and the bike, in my opinion was a big success!