HARNESSING THE ELECTRIC POWER OF THE FOOT
In impoverished areas of the world, poor access to electricity has forced many households to utilize dangerous or outdated energy alternatives (kerosene lamps, coal, dried dung) which harm the environment and create lasting health problems. According to the World Health Organization, indoor use of solid fuels is single-handedly responsible for nearly 500,000 deaths per year in Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia.
Keeping the realities of the resource-poor child in mind, an all-female group of Harvard undergraduates transformed a sport loved around the world into a catalyst to provide an environmentally-friendly and fun alternative.
The award-winning sOccket is a soccer ball that harnesses energy generated during play to power small electrical appliances that are critical in the developing world. The sOccket harnesses the kinetic energy of the soccer ball during normal game play and stores enough power to charge small electrical appliances such as LED lamps, water sterilization devices and mini refrigerators. The sOccket requires only 30 minutes of play to provide 3 hours of power and light.
Inside the sOccket
One of the biggest obstacles facing the inventors was the poor durability of sports balls, specifically soccer balls. Within weeks (if not days), the pins required for inflation are lost or broken and the balls are often punctured or ripped to pieces within a few months. In the end, more balls end up in landfills than in the hands of people who really need them. The mass-produced sOccket eliminates pins and leather and replaces them with 95 percent recyclable materials ensuring a product lifespan of 3 to15 years.
The first mass-production model
The sOccket, which was officially launched in September 2011, has won a number of awards including the Good Housekeeping Shine On Award for Innovation (2011), Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award - Next Generation Award (2010), and Elle Gold Awards (2010). More than 2500 sOcckets have been confirmed for distribution across Central America, Africa and the Caribbean through schools, community centers, and hospitals in resource-poor communities with plans to reach 10,000 by the end of 2011.
See video of the sOccket in motion here.
"Time and time again the story of American growth is written by the daring drive of entrepreneurs, who are willing to roll the dice on a great idea," said Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos. "But in order for cutting edge ideas to get to the marketplace in time to address social needs, and in order for businesses to sustain themselves, strong intellectual property protection is critical."
"The ability to establish IP as a young, bootstrapping start-up is priceless," said Jessica Matthews, Co-Founder & CEO of Uncharted Play, Inc. "Our ideas are often all that set us apart from large conglomerates, and we wouldn't be able to position ourselves as a viable organization if we didn't have protection for these ideas via patents and trademarks."
Uncharted Play, Inc.
In May of 2011 two of the original sOccket inventors, Jessica O. Matthews and Julia C. Silverman, founded Uncharted Play Inc. (Poughkeepsie, NY), a zero-profit, social enterprise that develops fun toys that provide a solution to real-world issues. Taking on sOccket as Uncharted Play's flagship product, Matthews and Silverman invested thousands of dollars from their personal savings in the redesign and development of the ball that can now power functional tools like an LED lamp and a water purifier.
sOccket inventors & Uncharted Play founders, Jessica O. Matthews (L) and Julia Silverman
America is not lacking for groundbreaking ideas, nor are we short on entrepreneurs willing to take risks. The nation is full of inventors, scientists, and technologists committed to the discovery and testing of new ideas which can improve our lives, drive our economy, and equip communities with new tools to tackle new challenges.
"We hope that our innovation will inspire others to dream and create as well," continued Matthews. "Innovation is nothing if not contagious, and our goal is to lead by example, paving the way for people around the world to fix the issues facing humanity while keeping joy at the forefront of their lives."
While the sOccket isn't the solution to the world's energy problems, it just may be the spark that gets us there.