The sOccket looks like a regular soccer ball, but a tiny electric generator hides inside. Children playing soccer for 10 minutes can “earn” three hours of electricity, a boon in Africa, where in most countries 95 percent of the population has no access to electric power.
While players kick the sOccket around the field, an inductive coil mechanism responds to the ball’s movement. The tiny machine generates electricity and stores it. Users can plug small LED lights or cell phones into a universal DC jack on the ball. Beyond the electrical application and obvious physical advantages of running around a soccer field, the sOccket provides an additional health benefit. People who don’t have access to electricity often use expensive kerosene. The flames are dangerous, but it’s the smoke that presents particular risk; respiratory infections kill more children in developing countries than either AIDS or malaria.
Four Harvard students created the sOccket as an engineering class project two years ago. The four bonded over their experiences in developing countries. Jessica Lin, who graduated with a government degree last year, spent all her college summers working in Africa as an intern for the Centers for Disease Control. Recent grad and psychology major Jessica Matthews, was born in America to Nigerian parents and serves as marketing and operations manager for a Nigeria-based consulting firm. Julia Silverman, who graduated this year with a degree in social anthropology, has conducted education research in Tanzania and worked on databases at an AIDS/HIV clinic in South Africa. Hemali Thakkar, who will receive a social anthropology degree next year, was born in India. The quartet kicked around ideas for mobile health devices and video games before scoring with the sOccket.
“For us, we had all seen the power of soccer and this universal need for energy, and married the idea together in the last two weeks of class to come up with the sOccket,” Linn told AOL News. That summer, after school let out, Lin traveled to Africa and watched kids from WhizzKids United (an organization developed in response to the staggering high numbers of HIV infection amongst youth in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa) test their product. The kids loved them. “Hopefully what it does is inspire and encourage children to think about ideas in new, innovative, creative ways, especially children in Africa facing these problems on a day-to-day basis,” Lin said.
The FIFA World Cup in South Africa, which kicks off Friday, offers the team a perfect opportunity to introduce the sOccket to the soccer universe. The group hopes to have the sOccket on shelves by winter. In the meantime, Thakkar returns to her studies, Matthews starts a marketing job in New York, Silverman looks for a job, and Lin moves to South Africa.