Invention Taps Shocks To Boost Fuel Economy Three MIT students pondering how to make cars more efficient dreamed up the GenShock device after a ride down a bumpy road. Instead of dispersing the force of the bumps, their idea is to capture the energy and use it.

Invention Taps Shocks To Boost Fuel Economy

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

GUY RAZ, host:

Next time you hit a pothole and find yourself cursing your local mayor, you might want to reconsider because those potholes could, eventually, save you money at the gas pump.

That's the thinking, at least, of a group of friends, all recent graduates from MIT. They came up with a way to harness the energy from a truck's shock absorber and channel it back into the vehicle.

Now, over the next few weeks, we're going to take a look at some of the interesting inventions of the past year.

And Zack Anderson, are you there?

Mr. ZACK ANDERSON (Co-Founder, Levant Power Corporation): I am. Hey.

RAZ: We're going to start with your invention. It's called GenShock. Tell us how it works.

Mr. ANDERSON: The device basically, as you're driving down the road, energy is lost when you go over small bumps in the road. And what we've created is a device that harnesses that lost energy through the shock absorber. So a standard shock in a car, it typically dissipates heat. So it's just the waste energy is heat. And what we've created is a device that does the same thing as a standard shock, but it generates electricity instead.

RAZ: Now, Zack, you just graduated from MIT last June, right?

Mr. ANDERSON: That's right.

RAZ: So, did you guys spend, like, all-nighters in your dorm rooms figuring out how to make it work? I mean, how did the process sort of play out?

Mr. ANDERSON: We were thinking about fuel saving solutions in a vehicle because the thing is that about 20 percent of the energy in each gallon of gasoline is actually used to move the vehicle forward. It's really amazing - 20 percent. That's nothing. So we were thinking, where is energy lost in a vehicle? And we really - we were thinking about different locations and nothing really came to us. And one day, we were driving down a bumpy road and we were all in Silicon Valley for the summer, working there, and it hit us. It said, you know, what about a bumpy road? Is there energy there? That was step one.

RAZ: Zack, explain, how much more efficient - I mean, you're in the prototype phase still now, but how much more efficient could your shocks make, say, you know, an 18-wheeler big rig?

Mr. ANDERSON: We're talking about a few percent, the ballpark of 3 percent, our initial testing is showing. And something in that neighborhood, even just two, 3 percent, we're talking about saving a fleet. So, for example, Wal-Mart has 7,200 trucks. We're talking about saving them over $13 million a year at the current price of diesel.

RAZ: Wow, that's incredible. Right now, I understand you guys are working on a prototype for the U.S. military, primarily to be used maybe on Humvees, military vehicles. Is there any chance that the gen tech will show up in our regular cars soon?

Mr. ANDERSON: Yeah. I mean, the thing is, is that hybrid vehicles now, they have one source of energy recovery, really. Most of them, you brake and it generates electricity.

RAZ: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ANDERSON: Well, there's more losses in a car than just braking. And I think the future of the car, the future of the electrified car, of the hybrid or the electric, is going to be recovering energy from a number of sources. And I think the suspension is the next stepping stone. It's going to be down the line. It's not going to be next year. But I think it's going to be there, and that's our target.

RAZ: That's Zack Anderson. He's one of the founders of Levant Power. It's a company that makes the GenShock absorber. It's one of the thousands of innovative products invented this year.

Zack, good luck to you, guys.

Mr. ANDERSON: Thank you very much.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.