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Though 25% of the world's population may not have access to electricity, they all have access to a source of energy that is currently being wasted - Kinetic energy released by their bodies when they exert themselves. Now two Harvard alums have figured out how to capture this energy and convert it into electricity - The only equipment needed? A Soccket soccer ball and the desire to have some fun!
The story behind this amazing invention began in 2008 at an unusual undergraduate engineering class where non engineers are challenged to blend art and science and come up with a practical solution to help the world. Two Liberal Arts majors - Julia Silverman and Jessica Mathews decided to give it try.
Having spent the previous summer researching diseases in Tanzania and South Africa, Julia had become aware of the issues faced by the poor in these countries, while Nigerian-born Jessica knew about them first hand. It was therefore only natural that both wanted to do something to help ease the situation.
After their first idea of improving medical record-keeping in third world countries was nixed by the professor, because it required the involvement of bureaucratic government officials, the duo scurried back to brainstorm about other issues they could help tackle - Access to cheap electricity was something that came to mind right away.
That's when Julia, who used to play three sports in high school had what she calls the 'aha' moment - What if they were able to capture some of the energy that generates when playing sports and convert it into electricity? Given its popularity among both young and old in all the African countries she and Jessica had visited, soccer seemed to be the natural sport of choice and the ball, the perfect conduit!
Not only did this brilliant idea win the professor's approval, but it has today also become the passion and life goal of these two young women, who upon graduation founded Uncharted Play Inc., a non-profit company dedicated to improving the lives of the underprivileged in third world countries.
While their first prototype comprised of sticking a shake-to-charge flashlight inside a hamster ball and kicking it around to see if the flashlight would pick up the charge, their second version, tested by delighted kids at the 2010 World Cup Soccer Championships held in South Africa, was a little more sophisticated.
Just five ounces heavier that a regulation soccer ball, the Soccket had the capacity to store enough energy to power up an LED lamp for three hours following just 30 minutes of play. While this may not seem much, it provided a great alternative for people whose only source of light is kerosene lamps that generate fumes that are toxic to both humans and the environment.
The company is not done with the development yet - On September 22nd, they will release the first mass-produced Soccket - One that is six to seven times more energy efficient than the current prototype and has the capacity to store enough energy to power a reading lamp, a water purifier and even an emergency cell phone charger. The best news is that for $60 USD apiece (includes LED lamp), it will be available to anyone who wants it. The company is also hoping that people not only buy one for themselves but also, donate one to a country in need.
And the young entrepreneurs are not done yet - Once the Soccket is successful, they have many similar ideas combining fun and function, that they plan to develop. As Silverman succinctly puts it - "Just because we get older doesn't mean we have to stop playing, and just because we need important things in our life, like electricity, doesn't mean that we have to be serious when we do it." To read more about the company or order/donate a ball, check out: unchartedplay.com.