Soccer Ball Powers Lights Through Play

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Kicking around a soccer ball is a fun thing to do, and now the pick-up game at the local field can also power your reading lamp.

The Soccket is a soccer ball, but it has a set of pendulums inside that swing around as you kick the ball or bounce it. The motion inside generates power, and the electricity is stored in a battery. On one side is a small seal that opens and reveals a power socket for a small LED lamp. Plug it in, and it can shine or about three hours if the ball bounces and rolls for about thirty minutes, longer if one plays with it more.

The Soccket was invented by Jessica O. Matthews, Julia Silverman, Jessica Lin and Hemali Thakkar while they were students at Harvard University. After they graduated, Matthews and Silverman started a company called Uncharted Play to distribute it.

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Soccket was originally rolled out in 2010, and since then Uncharted Play has refined the technology, reducing the size of the internal mechanism, for example. Alison Dalton Smith, Director of Communications for Uncharted Play, told Discovery News that children in Africa playing with the first models said the ball was too heavy. It weighs in at 17 ounces, just a hair heavier than a regulation soccer ball, which is 14-16 ounces.

Matthews and her colleagues started a  Kickstarter page to raise $75,000 to ramp up production. In the accompanying video Matthews says the funding is necessary to upgrade their assembly plant. At this writing they have about $26,700 from 311 backers, with 26 days to go.

Since the ball doesn’t inflate, punctures won’t affect it, so it should last longer than a typical soccer ball.

The Soccket is only designed to power the LED lamp, but the jack is a standard 3.5 millimeter version, usually used on headphones and older electronics, so other devices could be adapted to it.

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More than a fun way to power a light, there’s a more serious purpose to the Soccket: many places around the world don’t have reliable electricity and a simple reading lamp is a problem — especially when there is no electrical infrastructure. Soccer is played over most of the developing world, so combining a lamp and a soccer ball is logical, especially if it’s fun to play with.

But a great technology — and the Soccket is one — doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily a solution to a problem. Aaron Ausland, author of the Staying for Tea blog, who works on development projects in poor nations, wrote back in July that the Soccket doesn’t provide enough power to do much that a poor, rural family in Africa or Latin America might find useful, even though he himself would like to own one.

Smith said Uncharted Play is aware of the criticisms, and that it isn’t designed to be a final answer to getting electricity to people without it. It does, however, provide a stopgap measure. “In the short term people are burning solid fuels, or kerosene (lamps),” she said. The Soccket will at least cut that down, reducing carbon, soot and smoke emissions.

The Soccket could certainly be a useful thing where mobile phones are the norm. But it may end up being more so for first-worlders who don’t want to worry about charging phones at the beach.

Which is another reason for going to Kickstarter. Smith said people were sending emails asking when they could get one, and even more during Hurricane Sandy. In the face of that setting up a way to sell the Socckets in the US seemed a good idea.

Image: Uncharted Play

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