This article was originally published in The Borgen Project’s online magazine. To view the original story, click here.
PUEBLA, Mexico — Meet the newest form of electricity: a soccer ball. Since its debut in 2013, it has become the most powerful soccer ball in the world.
It may sound strange, but this ball, called the Soccket ball, generates and stores electricity while it moves around.
Uncharted Play, Inc. came up with the idea that was eventually fully-funded through Kickstarter.
“Uncharted Play is a social enterprise that aims to use play as a tool to disarm social issues and inspire global invention,” said Jessica Matthews, CEO and Founder of Uncharted Play.
The airless soccer ball harnesses the kinetic energy that is generated during movement and game play, utilizing it to create usable energy.
“Thirty minutes of play can give you over three hours of LED light,” Matthews said.
That light can replace more commonly used kerosene lamps that often emit noxious, unhealthy fumes. It can also be used to charge a cell phone.
The ball’s debut underscored United States President Barack Obama’s “Power Africa” plan — one that would invest $7 billion in energy access programs in Tanzania and all over Africa.
“I thought it was pretty cool,” Obama said after using it for the first time. “You can imagine this in villages all across the country.”
The best thing about the Soccket ball is that it mixes work and play; all it needs to work is some play. And, according to Matthews, people love it. They do not hesitate to play with the Soccket ball. It harnesses a universal, forever renewable resource that many people don’t even think about.
Electricity, on the other hand, is not the easiest thing to obtain in third world countries such as Tanzania. Uncharted Play has met this issue head-on by converting something easily obtainable into something many impoverished people often live without.
What’s more is that soccer goes beyond the limits of many other sports. While it offers the simple joy of play, soccer also has power. Soccer is a “unifying force that drives community and social change, which are two essential ingredients for sustainable development,” according to a June 2012 TriplePundit article.
Uncharted Play’s work does not stop at production.
“One thing we don’t want to do is simply drop off merchandise in a foreign country and then leave,” said Victor Angel, VP for Product Development at Uncharted Play, Inc. “We actually want to monitor the usage; we want to make sure the ball is being used in a way that’s educational above anything.”
Investigative Reporter Jennifer Collins traveled to Puebla, Mexico to find out just how well the balls were working.
Collins soon met 12-year-old Celina Martinez Lopez, who lives in a two-bedroom shack with six other people.
Normally, her family would light the house using three weak homemade oil lamps. When Celina received her Soccket ball, she was ecstatic; she claimed it was going to make doing homework much easier.
Two nights in a row Celina played with and utilized the ball’s energy for light. The third night, however, put a stop to everything.
“The light went out,” she said. “The ball had a tiny little plug. It got disconnected. Because of that, the lamp stopped working.”
Eduardo Tamaniz Diego, six years old at the time, said the same thing. His ball only lasted a few months. Not only did the inside of his ball break, but the outside seams had come apart as well.
Collins described the multitude of similar stories that she heard in the area, stressing that Uncharted Play, Inc. claimed that the item was intended to have a three-year lifespan.
Collins quickly contacted the company and they immediately addressed the issue.
“We’re going to make sure we get them the improved product,” said Jessica Matthews, the 26-year-old Harvard graduate who co-founded the company. “And we’re going to make sure we really test and make sure we get them something good.”
The outrage was lessened by the realization that Uncharted Play, Inc. is not a huge company; they are in fact a group of eight people in a small apartment in New York City.
“Things may not always go right, but we are always, always, always, always, always, always trying to do our best and doing it for the bigger picture,” CEO Jessica Matthews said.
Televisa, which funded the distribution of the Soccket ball in Puebla, said it is considering holding workshops to teach families how to repair the balls in the future.