CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts -- A group of Harvard students is harnessing the power of the world's most popular sport. They've designed a soccer ball that generates electricity with every kick. After a game, it can power a small light.
Though it's still a prototype, Popular Mechanics recently named sOccket one of its breakthrough innovations of the year. Hemali Thakkar, one of the co-creators of sOccket, showed me the product at Harvard's campus. It looks like an average white ball, but on the inside, she said, "there's a magnet that goes back and forth through the inductive coil, which allows a current to be captured in a capacitor and electricity to be stored." The extra hardware adds 6 ounces to the standard 15-ounce soccer ball.
"About 15 minutes of kicking the ball allows us to use a single LED for three hours," Thakkar said. A standard 90-minute game could generate close to 12 hours of light. The sOccket's socket is a small DC jack in the middle of one of the ball's panels. Thakkar plugged in an LED. It glowed modestly in the daylight, but Thakkar assured me, "when it's pitch dark, it's amazing how a single LED can make such a big difference."
Poor places that lack access to electricity is where sOccket hopes to make the biggest difference. The UN Development Program estimates that nearly 80 percent of the citizens of the 50 poorest nations have no access to electricity. People rely on unsustainable, unhealthy energy sources. To generate light, many burn kerosene. Its fumes are a major cause of health problems in developing countries and the environmental impact of kerosene is severe as well -- the yearly carbon dioxide emissions from all those lamps around the world equals the emissions from about 38 million cars.