American mechanical tinkerer, inventor and technology educator, Jeremy Fielding, did just that. The YouTube video  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhejwuDLr24  of his kids powering their Nintendo Wii video game with a modified Concept2 indoor rower went viral in 2018; the story has since made headlines in the United States and around the globe.

World Rowing spoke with Fielding about his project and the incredible response to what started as a fun idea to keep his kids active and off the couch.

The idea

“I walked into the living room one day,” says Fielding, “and saw my kids so excited playing on the [Nintendo] Wii and thought, wow, I’d like these kids to be outside instead of playing this video game. How can we capture all this energy?”

This challenge was a natural fit with Fielding’s mechanically creative side and he decided to take matters into his own hands.

“I wanted to see a kid powered rowing machine,” says Fielding. He chose indoor rowing – rather than a bicycle – because it is a full body workout and something Fielding himself enjoys doing.

Adding fuel to his plans was a series of requests to build a human-powered generator from many following his YouTube channel where he walks people step-by-step through the process of creating the inventions and mechanical modifications using recycled parts and his own ingenuity.

Using the indoor rower to generate power by Jeremy Fielding © Jeremy Fielding

 

The Modification

At the cost of a USD$100 for a used rowing machine along with a few other components including two used treadmill motors he picked up for free, Fielding transformed the rowing machine into a power generator that could light up a number of light bulbs.

“That was pretty much the intent,” he says of his step-by-step approach in the how-to videos where he modifies the ergometer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SyxOjwMrfxk&index=3&list=PL4njCTv7IRbzNzryZ5xzxxCNq5uK9tYT6 .

“I wanted to make sure other people could make it and not include any more components than what was required.”

With the light bulb ergo generator complete, Fielding took things to the next level so that one of his kids could use the indoor rower to power a video game for the others to play. Stabilising the voltage output was a bit more of a challenge requiring extra components and it meant there was a built-in added incentive to keep the flywheel in motion.

The Response

Fielding had an idea that he was tapping into something big with his combination of kids playing video games and exercise, but he was not prepared for the world-wide attention his video has received.

“The response was way bigger than I expected,” says Fielding. “I put it online and it just exploded.”

Besides an article in Popular Mechanics https://www.popularmechanics.com/home/how-to-plans/a22878720/video-game-rowing-machine/  , Fielding also got calls from the BBC and the video has even been translated into Russian.

“I just posted it as a small part of another series I was doing on treadmills,” says Fielding, “It was very heart-warming for me to see such a positive response to it.”

As for his kids’ response, the excitement on the video is real, he says. “The kids actually enjoy the lightbulbs more than the [video game]. They really get excited seeing the lights get brighter as they pull.”

When it comes to his own exercise, the modified ergo is also helping, although Fielding admits that the initial excitement has worn off somewhat with time.

“At first there was something special about having the lights there and getting brighter as well as seeing how much power was generated,” he says. “I learned to ignore the lights and just do it, but it is still pretty cool. The kids come in and get excited and that makes me want to row harder.”