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Need Directions? Just Ask the Rain-Powered Manhole

Rain isn’t likely to become our next great renewable resource, but it does have power. So say designers of the Eco Sign, a very special manhole cover that uses a digital display to point pedestrians to the nearest train or bus stop.

How Does it Work?

Rainwater falls through the manhole cover, spinning a small fan to generate electricity for the display. A lost pedestrian or curious tourist would simply need to step on either side of the cover. One side will point the way to the nearest bus stop, the other to the closest train or subway stop.

Eco Sign was designed by Choelyeon Jo and Youngsun Lee. To say the least, it is a unique and creative design, the first I’ve ever seen to turn raindrops into usable power. But it seems more novelty than breakthrough to me. For one, manhole covers are typically in the middle of streets - not a great spot to stop and look down in any major city. Secondly, it just seems unnecessary. Digital subway directions could just as easily be integrated into solar-powered streetlights or traffic light poles and placed high enough for all to view safely.

Yet perhaps rain power can serve a useful purpose someday. Perhaps rain-powered manhole covers could help power the LED displays in solar-powered roadways. In fact, there may be a number of uses for a rain power device like the Eco Sign, but I don’t think subway directions on the street surfaces of New York City will be one of them.

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