Above: Image courtesy of Uncharted Play

As the nations of the world get ready for the 2014 World Cup, you might wonder just what is so special about “the beautiful game”? Part of soccer’s appeal lies in its simplicity: all you need for a great game of pick-up is a ball and some friends! But what if playing soccer could produce more than just a good sweat? What if it could actually generate electricity?

Did you know? Uncharted Play is an organization dedicated to creating renewable energy solutions and promoting science education for the developing world through play.

Jessica Matthews and Julia Silverman—Harvard graduates and co-founders of Uncharted Play—have invented the SOCCKET, a soccer ball that’s also a power plant! It harnesses the kinetic energy of a moving ball and converts it into electrical energy that can be used to power small appliances.

Although the SOCCKET looks no different from a regular soccer ball, it has some features that make it even better:

It can produce 6 watts of power! It’s airless—it doesn’t need to be inflated and never deflates. This ensures that it’s always ready for play! It’s incredibly durable, helping it last through frequent play in remote areas. The SOCCKET’s foam exterior is made of ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), a polymer that is soft, flexible, crack-resistant, and waterproof. Even with all these extras, the SOCCKET only weighs about 500 grams. That’s only about 10% more than a regulation soccer ball.

How does the SOCCKET work?

The ball contains a gyroscope, a spinning wheel and axle system that can be used to determine orientation based on the rotation of an object. When the SOCCKET is in play, the wheel of the gyroscope spins, creating a force that maintains the gyroscope’s orientation. The total kinetic energy (Ek) captured by the SOCCKET corresponds to its motion during play, and can be defined as the sum of the ball’s translational energy (Et), produced when it moves in a straight line, and its rotational energy (Er), produced when the it rotates. In other words, Ek = Et + Er.

A SOCCKET with it's LED lamp plugged in. Click image to enlarge (Image courtesy of Uncharted Play)

Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can be stored in different forms! For example, the kinetic energy captured by the SOCCKET can be stored as chemical energy in a battery. Then, all you have to do to harness the energy stored in the battery is to plug a device directly into the ball, at which point the battery’s chemical energy becomes electric energy. Every SOCCKET comes with an LED (light-emitting diode) lamp that can produce three hours of light from just 30 minutes of play!

Did you know? The kinetic energy produced by playing with the SOCCKET, an electricity-generating soccer ball, can be stored and used later to power a light or charge a cell phone!

Far from being just a trendy gadget, the SOCCKET actually has real-world applications in developing countries. This little ball has the ability to combine the popularity and joy of soccer with the practicality of a mini generator in areas where access to electricity is very limited.

For example, in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, candles are the main source of light. Each of the 175 households that received a SOCCKET in November 2012 reported about 30 minutes of play each day. This provided enough light to reduce candle use by 40%! During frequent and long power outages in these remote areas, some families can spend up to 25% of their household budgets on candles and other light sources. This makes the SOCCKET an attractive money-saving alternative light source.

Uncharted Play has plans to bring the SOCCKET to different parts of South America and Africa, including Benin, Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, and South Africa.

The limited power produced by the SOCCKET means that it can’t provide a comprehensive to solution to the problem of limited energy access in developing countries. Nevertheless, it’s an exciting example of how innovation, science and play can be combined to improve the quality of life of people around the world. It’s starting to make a difference—one game at a time.

References

This energy-generating soccer ball is lighting up the world with play (Rebecca Grant, VentureBeat)
Obama’s Header: President Backs Electricity-Generating Soccer Ball (Andrew Moseman, Popular Mechanics)
The soccer ball that helps kids in underdeveloped areas finish homework (Matt McFarland, Washington Post)
A Soccer Ball That Is A Portable Energy Generator – “Soccket”: Julia Silverman at TEDx Gateway (TEDx Talks, Youtube)
SOCCKET YouTube Channel

Nicole Liscio

I recently earned my MSc in Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto, with a focus on developmental and model organism biology. I was born and raised in Toronto, and although I call it home, I love to travel and seek out new adventures! I am an active naturalist at heart - you can usually find me outdoors biking around the city, trekking through the snow, or kicking around a soccer ball (no matter what time of year)!






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