Why Amsterdam’s Pedal Power Stops Short of the Office


Pedal power is nothing new in the Netherlands. You only have to wander around Amsterdam to see bicycles anchored here there and everywhere, from canal railings and trees to bar stools.

Forward-thinking business brains are finding innovative commercial means to draw more efficiency from the Dutch fascination with pedal power. And what better way to harness this sustainable resource than by powering technology?

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is the latest to take advantage of human-generated power. The airport has recently installed desks equipped with a form of exercise bike, that allow waiting passengers to self-charge their mobile devices.

It’s a brilliant multifaceted solution to the nagging 21st century problem of short-term battery life. In a restrictive place so commonly devoid of electrical outlets, users can simply plug in, get pedalling and power up. It entertains waiting passengers and keeps them moving, which has particular health benefits – particularly for those with a long flight ahead.

These pedal-powered charging desks come from Belgium-based WeWATT, which has various products designed for public, commercial and private spaces. According to Springwise, similar desks are being installed at Brussels Airport and various railway stations around Europe too. We’ve already discussed the idea of treadmill desks on OT. Another variant comes from Soofa – a Boston-based company that’s planning to place solar phone-charging benches in city parks.

“A very Dutch solution”

Could other venues, like business centres, benefit from human-powered charge points?

“The smartphone charging exercise desks at Schiphol are a good initiative. But these desks probably won’t find a place here in our business center,” says Maaike Verdonkschot from business centre EBC Amsterdam.

“Having plenty of electrical outlets at EBC Amsterdam, a smartphone charging exercise desk isn’t really necessary to charge mobile devices,” she explained. However, Maaike recognises the benefits for commuters.

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“You get your daily exercise and you can charge your smartphone by your own created energy. It’s a very environmentally friendly solution and a good way to keep yourself fit, two things we can really appreciate! It’s also a fun way to pass the time while you’re waiting for your plane or for your suitcases.”

According to Maaike, Schiphol’s human-powered charging gadgets are “a very Dutch solution”, given that bikes are so prevalent in the city. But do businesspeople really want to be pedalling all day – especially when a plug socket can do the legwork for them?

“Here at EBC Amsterdam most of our tenants come to work on their bicycles,” said Maaike. “During the lunch break they often go for a walk outside too, so most of them get enough exercise during the day. So a self-charging desk is not really a necessary solution for our business center.

“However when people go on a business trip we certainly will tell them about the desks in Schiphol.”

Just like treadmill desks, it seems power-generating ‘exercise desks’ have a long way to go until they are deemed a necessary investment for business centres.

However as we’ve discussed before, the source of the problem – that of short-term battery life and a lack of available power outlets – is a nagging one that remains to be solved. And it is indeed influencing many new and exciting technical concepts in commercial spaces. But are we making it too complicated? Perhaps, just like all those bicycles lining the streets of Amsterdam, the answer is right under our noses.

Image: Courtesy WeWATT (taken at NMBS 2013, Pinterest)

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