This Canadian Bus Shelter Warms Up When Strangers Hold Hands

Duracell-powered shelter emits heat with human connection.
Mar 15, 2014·
Liana Aghajanian is TakePart's weekend editor. Her work has appeared in,, Los Angeles Times, and

American battery company Duracell installed a makeshift bus shelter in Canada with a clever, heartwarming twist: a heating mechanism that can only be powered by a human connection.

Patrons in Montreal suffering from the frigid temps still plaguing parts of North America had to hold hands in a chain-like fashion, with each end of the line placing one hand on each side of the shelter in what Duracell called a "moment of warmth powered by you." The sensors then caused the heater fitted on top to turn on, providing heat to cold riders waiting for the bus.

"In Canada, we have cold winters, but we also have each other," the ad says, causing viewers to let out a collective "awww."

The fascination with converting heat from the human body into electricity as an alternative power source isn't new, but technology to harness this energy is still being researched and developed. So while we're mercifully years from a Matrix scenario in which humans are bred purely as energy sources, our ability to generate heat is giving rise to some cool projects.

In 2012, for example, a team of researchers at Wake Forest University in North Carolina invented a "Power Felt," a thermoelectric device whose potential uses include "lining automobile seats to boost battery power and service electrical needs, insulating pipes or collecting heat under roof tiles to lower gas or electric bills," according to a news item on the school's website:

The researchers predict that low-cost organic thermoelectric fabrics could have a multitude of applications. Besides the , another wearable application could be winter jackets with thermoelectric inside liners that use the temperature difference between body heat and the outdoor temperature to power electronic devices, such as an iPod.

Other potential applications include recapturing a car’s wasted heat energy in order to improve fuel mileage, and lining a vehicle’s seats with the fabric to provide electricity for the vehicle’s battery. If installed under roof shingles, the fabric could generate electricity on hot days to help lower a building’s electricity bills. And in emergencies, the fabric could potentially be used to power a cell phone or flashlight.

“There are a very wide variety of applications for which these materials will now be perfectly adequate [with their current power output],” Carroll said. “Furthermore, if more power is required, there is the option of simply making larger sheets of fabric. Because of the cost advantages, this is still cheaper than going to more expensive Bi2Te3. Imagine, for instance, putting this material throughout the bodies of automobiles, supplying both sound dampening (which they must already do) and adding the functionality of power scavenging for only a nominal cost above the materials used currently. As with all organic electronics, the real transformative power of this innovation lies in its economic vs. technical advantages.”

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“Imagine it in an emergency kit, wrapped around a flashlight, powering a weather radio, charging a prepaid cell phone,” says David Carroll, director of the Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials and head of the team leading this research. “Literally, just by sitting on your phone, Power Felt could provide relief during power outages or accidents.”

Last year teenager Ann Makinowski invented a human heat-powered flashlight that won a slew of science fair awards and was the only Canadian entry to participate in last year's Google Science Fair.

Duracell's human-powered experiment was outfitted with its newest product, "Quantum," the world's most-advanced alkaline battery, according to the company.

Lest you think the campaign is all publicity and no pay-it-forward, the company is also donating $1 to Habitat to Humanity Canada for every share its "Moments of Warmth" video gets, with a maximum of $25,000. Duracell has also released a series of videos, titled "Trust Your Power," to celebrate the enduring human spirit. The most recent features Amy Purdy, a snowboarder who has had both legs amputated above the knee and is participating in the 2014 Paralympics.