The Soccket soccer ball turns the energy of motion, or kinetic energy, into electricity. When someone plays with the ball, a mechanism inside spins and creates electricity, which is stored in a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, like the ones in smartphones and laptops. According to Uncharted Play, the company that makes the toy, 30 minutes of play can power a small LED lamp for three hours.
Harvard University juniors Jessica O. Matthews and Julia Silverman came up with the Soccket idea for a class project in 2008. They weren’t engineers — both were planning to become social scientists. But they wanted to show that play, along with making people happy, could improve the quality of life in other ways. After graduating, they founded Uncharted Play in New York City in 2011.
It took a while to develop a ball that could both generate energy and actually be used for play. The Soccket is about two ounces heavier than a regular soccer ball, and it’s filled with special foam that keeps it from deflating. The LED lamp that comes with it plugs directly into the ball for charging, and the company plans to expand the range of devices the ball can power.
According to the EcoGeek website, the company has taken some criticism for marketing the Soccket as a solution to help poor communities create electricity, because more efficient options are already available. Co-founder Silverman points out that the goal was not to turn children’s playtime into work that creates power. As product manager Victor Angel told the science-news service Inside Science in 2013, “This is not intended to solve the world’s energy crisis. But it conveys the idea that play is good, and sustainability is not necessarily about making sacrifices. You can have fun while creating a benefit for the environment.”