sOccket, a Fun-Powered Energy Ball Kids Kick for Power

child_with_soccer_ball_at_sunsetTurning child’s play into power

Fun seems to be the one truly unlimited source of free energy. You can find it in the mountain villages of Turkey, the narrow streets of Jerusalem and the dusty villages of Jordan. Somewhere in Tehran or Cairo or Istanbul even as you read this, this energy is being generated and released as young people practice for the 2014 World Cup. Have you ever wondered at the possibilities of capturing this energy? No I don’t mean harnessing child labor as in some sort of Dickensian dystopia, I mean– what if we could harness some of the boundless energy released when people play, capture it while they are enjoying themselves?

soccket energy ball

Some students at Harvard University in the US had that same thought and they did something about it. They began experimenting with parts from a generator flashlight and went on to invent a soccer ball which generates electricity every time it is kicked. At the end of a 30 minute game the energy stored in each SOccket ball can light up an LED lamp for up to three hours. It can also be used to charge mobile phones and other small electronic devices.

The four Harvard students, Hemali Thakker, Julia Silverman, Jessica O. Matthews and Jessica Lin received grants from the Clinton Global Initiative University to develop a prototype of their invention. Jessica Matthews and Julia Silverman went on to start a company called Unchartedplay to manufacture the SOccket ball and try to organize sponsorship for the balls to be sent where they are needed the most.

In an interview by Jake Abrahamson of the Sierra Club, Jessica Matthews said that the SOccket is designed for the developing world. It is a durable, 95% recyclable product. She said she sketched out the design for its gyroscopic generator when she was a junior at Harvard.

“Anyone can do the electrical part,” she said, “a trained monkey can do the wiring. The hard part was creating a ball that felt like something you wanted to play with.” Uncharted play has plans to release a new product in 2013.  The new ball is called the Ludo and it tracks play time which can be uploaded and turned into real-world items for social development products.

One in five people live without electricity. In much of the developing world, the only alternative for indoor lighting is kerosene. When Nicholas Negroponte’s XO “One Laptop Per Child” laptop was taken to remote villages in Cambodia, some families were using the kid-powered laptop as their best source of indoor lighting. Another group of students from MIT found a way to use discarded soft-drink bottles for indoor lighting and now Unchartedplay has another fun way to light homes in remote parts of the world. The creative energy of these four young students made it possible.

Photo of child with soccer ball via Shutterstock.

About Brian Nitz

Brian remembers when a single tear dredged up a nation's guilt. The tear belonged to an Italian-American actor known as Iron-Eyes Cody, the guilt was displaced from centuries of Native American mistreatment and redirected into a new environmental awareness. A 10-year-old Brian wondered, 'What are they... No, what are we doing to this country?'From a family of engineers, farmers and tinkerers Brian's father was a physics teacher. He remembers the day his father drove up to watch a coal power plant's new scrubbers turn smoke from dirty grey-back to steamy white. Surely technology would solve every problem. But then he noticed that breathing was difficult when the wind blew a certain way. While sailing, he often saw a yellow-brown line on the horizon. The stars were beginning to disappear. Gas mileage peaked when Reagan was still president. Solar panels installed in the 1970s were torn from roofs as they were no longer cost-effective to maintain. Racism, public policy and low oil prices transformed suburban life and cities began to sprawl out and absorb farmland. Brian only began to understand the root causes of "doughnut cities" when he moved to Ireland in 2001 and watched history repeat itself.Brian doesn't think environmentalism is 'rocket science', but understanding how to apply it within a society requires wisdom and education. In his travels through Europe, North America, Asia and the Middle East, Brian has learned that great ideas come from everywhere and that sharing mistakes is just as important as sharing ideas.

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