Every great once in a while, you come across something that makes you slap your head and say, "That's...just...brilliant." No, I don't mean the soccer ball pictured here. Well, actually, I DO mean the soccer ball pictured here. Although, this is no ordinary ball. It's called a sOccket, and I first came across it in a great blog post written by Jim Witkin over on the New York Times Green Inc. blog. Here's the "elevator pitch" of sOccket, courtesy of co-creator Jessica Lin: "sOccket is a soccer ball that captures and stores energy during normal game play to be used to later charge batteries and LEDs (light emitting diodes) in developing countries."
Go ahead, slap your head and say, "brilliant." I know I just did again.
Lin told me that the idea for sOccket grew out of a group project for an undergrad engineering class at Harvard. She and the rest of her team all had experience in the developing world, and they realized two things. First, kids are playing soccer all the time in many parts of the world, be it with a ball, a tin can, whatever. And second, the vast majority of those kids have homes with no reliable electricity. Light sources, if they exist at all, are often provided by unhealthy sources such as wood fires or kerosene lamps. As Lin told me, "There were stories we would hear of children going out to the street and studying underneath street lamps, or literally coming to school with blackened noses because they'd been studying near kerosene lamps."
So, the sOccket was born. The first prototype used an inductive coil mechanism to store energy. Lin said it works on more or less the same principal as one of those "shake to charge" flashlights, "where a magnet rolls through a coil creating an electric charge." They then took the sOccket out for field testing, literally, in South Africa and Kenya. They let the kids kick it around, and give feedback. Lin and the sOccket team found that 15 minutes of game play could power the onboard (in-ball?) LED for three hours. Lin says the kids gave the team great ideas for sOccket 2.0, including one kid who told them they should put solar panels on the ball. Hmmm...maybe not. But, the team is now looking at better mechanisms for storing even more energy during game play.
The sOccket folks say they hope to have a second prototype ready for testing by the time the World Cup starts in South Africa in June. Lin says that they'd like to use sales of the ball in the developed world to help get the sOccket into the hands (sorry...onto the feet) of kids in the developing world.
Also, check out the ball that allows you to wash your clothes while you play
, courtesy of the Planet Green blog.