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Using The Prius' Regenerative Brakes To Power A Roller Coaster

from the neat dept

Notcot has this neat story about how some engineers are prototyping the idea of taking the regenerative braking system of the Toyota Prius, which effectively turns the "friction" into usable energy, rather than wasted energy, and using it in other contexts, such as to power a roller coaster. The general concept came from a program Toyota put together called "Ideas for Good," and one part of that included a commercial, where someone made the suggestion to power an amusement park with such a system. You can see that commercial here:
That resulted in Toyota teaming up with Deeplocal to build a prototype system of a Prius coaster car that captures energy via the braking system. You can see the short video that shows the results (and some of the process) below:
And back at the Notcot post there are a bunch of photos of the project as well. Here's just one to whet your appetite:
To be honest, I was a little disappointed in the results. I recognize this is more proof of concept, but I'd really like to see something like this done on a bigger scale. It did feel like a bit of a letdown to just see a little slope and roll, rather than anything resembling a real rollercoaster. Perhaps we'll be able to do a followup post before too long with a bigger and better example...

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    kgwagner (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 5:42am

    Gimme a break!

    This is just yet another stab at perpetual motion. Unfortunately, there's no such thing as a free lunch. You can bet they'll patent the snot out of it, though, as many have in the past.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2011 @ 6:03am

    I can't see the vids, Do they the returns are greater than the investment plus maintenance, because that's why I find it iffy. Adding downtime and repair costs usually outweigh trivial returns.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Matt (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 6:25am

    It seems to me that a roller coaster wouldn't be braking that often, really only once at the very end so the question becomes whats the cost to benefit ratio of it?

    Additionally it's my understanding that this technology has been available in freight locomotives for a while now so it seems a bit more marketing than substance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2011 @ 6:56am

    It isn't a good idea anyway...

    The idea was pretty stupid to begin with. The brakes on a roller coaster do not engage until absolutely necessary. The general design is such that once it's moving they only use the brakes to stop to let people on/off, the rest of the time they generally use air resistance/gravity to kill momentum as needed through out the trip. Harnessing the tiny amount of energy these devices can capture, on such small amounts of use, is more or less a waste of money.

    You would be much better using vibration energy capturing instead.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Sean T Henry (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 7:14am

    They needed engineers to place a drive shaft with a clutch that connects to a generator with enough resistance at the speeds it will be stopping from. They could have asked any of the DIY electric car communities to do it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Pitabred (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 7:34am

    Re: Gimme a break!

    No, there's no such thing as perpetual motion. But this could significantly cut the energy bills of an amusement park. Something doesn't have to be perfect to make it better than what exists.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Overcast (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 7:44am

    Thing is, using this concept on a rollercoaster, would seem to take all the needed energy from the coaster..

    Maybe that final moment of braking might realize a small return, however.

    Of course, this would require more equipment on the coaster, which means more energy will be required to get it up the initial hill.

    Yes, energy isn't free, but getting people thinking and innovating is free. Too bad patent trolls keep many from even bothering to mention their ideas.

    I've had a few good ideas, maybe patentable, but the cost of getting a patent + potential legal issues just would mean a bunch of hassle for nothing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    New Mexico Mark, May 6th, 2011 @ 7:48am

    New entry for the book of bad ideas

    Good idea... something that slows the "coaster" while going downhill. Is someone missing the point here?

    If the regenerative braking was designed to capture nearly 100 percent of the kinetic energy, the ride could go downhill almost as slowly as it climbed the next one using the regenerated energy. In fact, if we got rid of those pesky hills, we could just impart the minimum energy right in the beginning for the ride to gradually coast to a stop back at the beginning.

    "Fun", safe, and green, all at the same time! Maybe this is why environmentalists are not normally called upon to design amusement parks. :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Mr. Oizo, May 6th, 2011 @ 7:52am

    Re: Gimme a break!

    True, but less wasted energy is also valuable. Even though it might never be that perpetual mobile you still seem to long for.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Ven, May 6th, 2011 @ 7:57am


    Roller coasters don't apply power often either. A typical roller coaster will only be powered up the first and tallest hill. It will then only use it's momentum until it breaks at the end of it's run.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Mr. Oizo, May 6th, 2011 @ 7:57am

    Magnetic Brakes ?

    Now that I think of it. Are most rollercoasters also not magnetically braked ? How faster they go, the more energy they produce to brake themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    CDWatters (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 8:33am

    Re: Re: Gimme a break!

    Most coasters, especially multitrain types, have brakes available throughout the route. Sometimes these are to make sure the train is not exceeding safe limits for the track ahead. Energy returns on those systems are probably pretty low.

    Some of the older coasters have multiple circles of track around the ride with bumps and dips to use up the energy before entering the station, but a lot of the newer coasters, taller and faster, wedged into tight footprints (Top Thrill at Cedar Point comes to mind) definitely could recycle some of the braking energy to reduce the load needed to hit 120mph in 4 seconds. The braking at the end is pretty severe.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    CDWatters (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 8:43am


    The design in the video isn't practical, just a proof of concept.

    Coasters don't have brakes on the cars for the most part, the brakes are really on the track. One common design is a metal fin sticking down, and the brakes grab the fins as the train passes.

    If the fins were magnetic, and the "brakes" wire loops, then regenerative braking would work without having to completely change the coaster design.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    the-outrage!!!, May 6th, 2011 @ 8:46am

    Stupid comments

    Judging by these comments, not a single one of you owns a hybrid or understands the technology... very disappointed. I'll go back to reddit where GOOD comments are upvoted to the top, and stupid whining is downvoted into oblivion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Matt (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 9:28am

    Re: Magnetic Brakes ?

    That is an intesting point, why would a ride operator want to downgrade the brakes to a mechanical system with more potential points of failure.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    TechDan (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 9:58am

    Re: Re: Magnetic Brakes ?

    Mechanical brakes are designed such that any failure in the system causes them to catch the cars and stop them. A failure in a magnetic system would not be able to do that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    magecat (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 10:09am

    Re: Stupid comments

    That may be true; the workings of hybrid technology aren't really common knowledge. Would you care to enlighten the discussion rather than insulting it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Me, May 6th, 2011 @ 12:13pm

    It would be better

    Would it not be better to have the roller coaster cars have generators to generate electricity as it is coasting around the track? The only time the coaster needs to brake is at the end unless they extend that by many feet to get the most out of the braking.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Max, May 6th, 2011 @ 2:06pm

    Re: Magnetic Brakes ?

    When I first saw this commercial I thought it was a sad grab at a technology that's been in use for decades. Now I believe that the ad agency didn't realize that the magnetic breaking used in roller coasters was the inspiration for regenerative breaking.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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