Currently starting on a story I long had in my head and small text files.

I had this idea for electrical equipment (anything, from power drills to cars) which is controlled by inserting user hands into a small contained pool of liquid (essentially the circuitry of the equipment with an ability to store, amplify and direct electricity). My fictional humans have a certain chemical component in their blood and specialized organs located in the hands (or another part [subject to change]) to release electricity.

From Wikipedia:

"In the electric eel, some 5,000 to 6,000 stacked electroplaques can make a shock up to 860 volts and 1 ampere of current (860 watts) for two milliseconds"

I was thinking about something similar to that for the humans so it can be used to "start the engine" of the equipment. They release shocks later to redirect, start, or stop — basically to give "instructions" to the equipment like how we turn a steering wheel now.

How plausible is this? totally absurd or could use some tweaks?

(The intricate details on how this system works affect the story to quite a substantial degree)

Once again, Thanks for any input or wake-up calls!

I'm new to actually making my "napkin ideas" into a proper fleshed out story.


I do wish for them to actually power the devices with aforementioned methods but I was thinking that would be too much.

I'm thinking of having a small population with a genetic defect that leads to an absence of electricity-generating organs or a chemical deficiency. These people will be like the Amish, however, not by choice but by circumstance. Therefore, they must find their place in society. So they must be unable to use these electronic devices at all or to such a small extent that it isn't worth the effort.

  • $\begingroup$ Just to control, or are you going to power them that way? Just what controls are you planning to implement? We do have touchscreens that are similar in operation $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 10:00
  • $\begingroup$ not only control but also power to some extent, i'm thinking of having a small population with a genetic defect which they do not have such organs or the chemical deficiency causing them to be like the Amish but not by choice but by circumstance and they must find their place in society. So they must be unable to use these electronic devices at all or to such a small extent that it isnt worth the effort. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew Ng
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 10:05
  • $\begingroup$ It's pointless to manually power an electrical device, unless it is very, very low powered. As regards the genetic defect issue, if there are enough people who can't use most modern devices, why wouldn't some enterprising engineer devise a workaround? Or even modify some obsolete technology to compensate, e.g., if they can't use touchscreens, due to, let's say, hypersensitivity to electrical shocks, why not use mice? $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 10:28
  • $\begingroup$ hmmmmm, the workaround argument seems to be the most compelling reason to make changes. but i'm guessing it's too small and rare a disorder for any big changes to be made to include them. seems more work is needed. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew Ng
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 10:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding! You might find this Good Question Writing series to be useful, esp. #4. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 0:29

4 Answers 4


An electric eel uses short pulses and it cannot supply a steady electric current over a long duration. Those humans have no medium through which electricity is conducted to the target, so conduction is done by contact as you described.

One way to crcumnavigate the problem takes few parameters into account:

1- electric power = energy input = more food. That being said, you can assume your humans burn excess calories by giving electric pulses, when they have no time to go to the gym.

2- Power is limited. To power a car, they have to accumulate electric charge in a power storage (batteries and more) via electronic system. They can, on the other hand, power portable devices like cellphones and computers. At such powers, heat dissipation may become serious, especially with long and frequent pulses.

3- power control: those strong yet short pulses must be regulated before getting to the device. The pulse alone creates a power surge just as lightning does when it strikes the power grid. Batteries cannot handle that, so think of using capacitors instead. (Volvo has displayed an electric vehicle prototype which does not rely on batteries)

In short, bio-electricity works in aquatic creatures, and may work outside the water if designed correctly. Just don't forget that this energy must come from food...


The 1 HumanPower car

Consider the power of a horse, 745W. It's a lovely value that we're all familiar with under the heading of 1 horsepower. You're looking to power a car from a human (analogue). The sustainable power output from a human is approximately 200W1 or about 0.3 horsepower. A vehicle which runs with around 1/3bhp is not exactly a sports car. My power drill runs at 650W, circular saw at 1300W, the kettle is 3kW, maybe you could run an electric screwdriver but nothing much bigger.

To generate power, people need to eat, to be able to output a horsepower, you'd need to eat like a horse. I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this, to output the power of a vehicle you need to eat like a vehicle. Energy is conserved.

Just the controls

Considering not trying to power the vehicle itself, just send pulses to the control system, steady use of this ability would still require considerable additional calorie intake for prolonged driving. My real problem is why did this ability evolve in a non-aquatic species?

What's left?

A control system that used the conductivity of a body, hands inserted into a fluid and changes in the conductivity used to control the vehicle, no problem, you can have a lot of fun with that. Your Amish group either have too low basic conductivity or for some reason can't control it.

1 Up to 400W for an hour, 2000W peak sprint has been recorded by cyclists. No comment about performance enhancing drugs is made about these values.

  • $\begingroup$ i guess i could modify the parameters to exclude the organs which give of electricity but rather just a chemical compound produced in the blood which gives greater control over the fluid's pulses and also in somewhat "communicating" with the equipment in question $\endgroup$
    – Matthew Ng
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 10:53
  • $\begingroup$ 200W for a human is generous. I don't think most humans could do that for a full working day. First order, work will be proportional to muscle mass. I don;'t think there is that much efficiency difference between a person and a horse. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 19:53
  • $\begingroup$ @SherwoodBotsford, it's generous but below the theoretical peak. I'm always generous with these things simply because even when generous the numbers are still so small in the real world. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 20:20
  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer, but I too have issues with the 200W; we still need power to run our nervous system, brain, muscles, et al. Would we have 200W of excess power given the maintenance requirements of our bodies? Also, the point in the other answer about touch screens and capacitance is an important one for controls as we're already part way there, without the need to dip our hands in a bucket at the same time. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B II
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 0:37
  • $\begingroup$ I've read that a skilled cyclist can output 400W. It seems reasonable that an average trained individual could produce half of that. However, it should be literally as exhausting as racing a bicycle at maximum effort. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 2:31

You don't need advanced genetics to accomplish this. Your smart phone, iPad, or other touch screen device are triggered off capacitance - an electrical change created by interaction with your touch. I don't see them as often, but I recall lamps and switches that you could touch anywhere on the surface to similarly turn them on or off.

If you do want your people to actually power the devices, instead of merely kick them on or off, keep in mind power and energy. Power is voltage multiplied by current, so a 20 volt / 5 amp power drill uses 100 watts of power. By comparison, the average human consumes 2000 calories (4200 joules) per day, averaging about 97 watts of power spent on just running the metabolism and moving around. You'll maybe want some external source of power, since running some heavier devices will be impossible to do alone.

Think this link will help - http://sustainability.blogs.brynmawr.edu/2012/07/31/understanding-energy-part-1/

  • $\begingroup$ oh god, These humans would become eating machines in that case, hmmmm more work to be done then. Thanks for the input $\endgroup$
    – Matthew Ng
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 10:43
  • $\begingroup$ Your welcome. I'm really looking forward to what you come up with. Sounds like some neat ideas. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 11:38
  • $\begingroup$ I used to love messing with those lamps. If you tied a piece of copper wire to them you could extend the ‘touch’ on off-ness to any arbitrary metal object. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 12:35

I believe that sustaining an electrical current long enough to use devices continuously would be quite difficult and inefficient. This article says that only 15% of the energy obtained by eating can be used as electricity by electric eels. So perhaps the idea of powering your pc while you're gaming might not work. Still, if most people don't starve bad enough for every buzz-up, some interesting technological pieces may appear.

Devices that don't need continuous charge

Electrical toothbrushes, mixers, E-readers (on e-ink) and similar stuff don't usually take more than a few seconds of continuous charge. Well, the toothbrush does, but I think this tool needn't too much energy, even if it's required for some longer time. E-reader needs electricity only while switching pages. Mixers even in our world are overheating after 15-20 secs and need a break, if anyone have ever bothered reading the manual :).


New kind of interaction between humans appear. People who know each other well enough may strike each other with friendly shock blasts. Like, you know, sometimes you just want to bite the loved one. Might as well be used in a combat, too.


People, who can't use electricity like that are considered handicapped. Various tools are created to help them fit into the world of electrocuting men and women. There are special gloves, for example, or any other tools powered by batteries that allow them to use the same devices like the rest of the world would use.

  • $\begingroup$ + 1 for "Various tools are created to help them fit into the world of electrocuting men and women." made me laugh. on a separate note the ideas here are pretty interesting and it could help me out with modifying this world i was thinking off. Thanks a bunch! $\endgroup$
    – Matthew Ng
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 10:45

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