SOCCKET energy-generating soccer ball powers up poor villages
By Nicholas Nehamas, Latitude News, January 11, 2013
Soccer is the most popular sport in the world. So why not harness its power for good?
That’s exactly what a start-up based in New York City is doing—literally.
The company, Uncharted Play, has designed a fully functional soccer ball called the SOCCKET which can power an LED light. One minute of kicking around this portable generator produces around six minutes of light. Children in developing countries without reliable sources of electricity can play their favorite game and then plug in the light to read, do homework, and help illuminate their homes.
"We designed the SOCCKET for children and families who could not only use the light, but were in the most dire need of a sense of hope—of having a product that addresses an issue in their lives in a positive way," Jessica Matthews, CEO and co-founder of Uncharted Play, tells Latitude News.
More than a billion families around the world use kerosene lamps as their primary source of light because electricity is either unavailable or too expensive. But as well as being a serious fire risk, kerosene lamps also endanger the health of those who breathe their fumes. The World Bank says living in an enclosed space with kerosene lamps is the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day—that’s probably why, in the developing world, an incredible two-thirds of women with lung cancer are nonsmokers, according to the BBC.
The SOCCKET is one innovative alternative to kerosene. Matthews explains that the ball contains a pendulum, or gyroscope-like device, inside it.
"As the ball rolls, the mechanism also rolls, harnessing kinetic energy and then storing it inside a simple battery," she says.
The SOCCKET started as a group project at a class at Harvard College in 2008. The assignment? Find a real world problem and solve it. Matthews, Silverman, and two other women chose the lack of electricity in developing countries.
"We weren’t trying to change the world," says Matthews. "By no means where we trying to do anything beyond not failing the class."
Matthews was born in the US, but her parents are Nigerian, and she’s a dual citizen. She travels there frequently. Her life abroad has raised her awareness of problems in the developing world, but she’s wary of describing herself as a “social entrepreneur,” a popular term for businesspeople who balance profit and charity in their work.
"For me personally," she says, "it’s just entrepreneurship—providing a solution for a problem people have in a way that’s worthwhile or useful enough that they’re willing to spend something or offer something in return."
Matthews is currently an MBA candidate at Harvard Business School, and Uncharted Play is a business, not an NGO. And she says its important for young entrepreneurs to look beyond the US for new ideas.
"It’s hard to do something new in America because we already have so much," she continues. "Here, the next big thing is usually an app that tells you what kind of superhero you’re most like. But it’s a lot easier to do something meaningful in places where providing clean water or electricity or even self-confidence is a big deal."