From the earliest civilisations right up to the start of the Industrial Revolution, humans used sheer muscle power, organisation skills and ingenious mechanics to lift weights that would be impossible to handle by most power cranes in operation today.
Some readers have observed that we haven't paid any attention to one of the most low-tech innovations ever - the humble bicycle. We noted the sex-appeal of pedal power (and this concerns both men and women), but that's about it.
So, since you asked for it, here is our concise but clear point of view on these human powered contraptions.
Fast and complicated calculations are a product of fossil fuels.
Multiplying and dividing numbers was not always that easy. Before the arrival of cheap electronic pocket calculators and computers in the 1970s, people relied on an array of low-tech means and machines to calculate taxes, profits or the properties of engineering parts.
Being an obsolete technology now, some of these 19th and 20th century calculators are surprisingly sophisticated and fashionable. Moreover, most are powered by a crank, which makes these gadgets "green". Today's pocket calculators are no power hogs, either. The thing is that computers took over most calculating jobs from calculators, and a large supercomputer consumes as much energy as a convoy of trucks.
What do we do with all that calculation power? We build fast cars, giant jumbo jets and worldwide information highways, all of which, in their turn, raise energy consumption. We also construct opaque financial products, rickety electronic voting systems and contradictory global warming scenarios. Mechanical calculators may be an inferior technology, but they had the benefit of keeping things on this planet relatively simple. A brief overview of the most remarkable models.
The human body can deliver enough power to drive computers, television sets and washing machines – but it does go hand in hand with lots of sweat.
Eco-tech boffins dream of self-sufficient gadgets: mobile phones fed by solar energy, heartbeat-powered music players. However, the potential of these energy sources is much too small. Handles, cranks and biking machines on the other hand, do have a promise to be a powerful energy source. Swinging a crank for fifteen minutes is enough to power a mobile phone. Less than an hour of pedalling a bike can power larger machines. The only thing missing is a remedy for laziness.
How to downsize a transport network: the Chinese wheelbarrow For being such a seemingly ordinary vehicle, the wheelbarrow has a surprisingly exciting history. This is especially true in the East, where it became a universal means of transportation for both passengers and goods, even over long distances.
Firewood in the Fuel Tank: Wood Gas Vehicles Wood gas cars are a not-so-elegant but surprisingly efficient and ecological alternative to their petrol (gasoline) cousins, whilst their range is comparable to that of electric cars.
How to make everything ourselves: open modular hardware Consumer products based on an open modular system can foster rapid innovation, without the drawback of wasting energy and materials. The parts of an obsolete generation of products can be used to design the next generation, or something completely different.
Power from the Tap
Power from the Tap: Water Motors Just before the arrival of electricity at the end of the 19th century, miniature water turbines were connected to the tap and could power any machine that is now driven by electricity.