On visits to her parents' homeland of Nigeria, Jessica Matthews saw a developing-world problem. "Power is so erratic. Those who have access to it get it from kerosene lamps and small diesel generators," she says. "You're breathing in disgusting fumes that can make you sick and are horrible for the environment." Her unlikely solution? A soccer ball.
In 2008, Matthews and three Harvard classmates created Soccket, a ball that, merely by being kicked around, can generate and store enough energy to power a light for three hours. The latest iteration is a solid foam ball that looks and feels like a regular soccer ball but doesn't need inflating. It weighs a couple of ounces more than a standard ball and doesn't bounce as high, but it's a vast improvement over makeshift balls kids use in the developing world.
When the Soccket moves, a device inside turns and a generator harnesses the kinetic energy, storing it on a battery. The lamp is then plugged in and can charge in less than a minute, so 10 kids can power lights off of one ball. "They can play at school, get the power they need there and then bring it home," Matthews says.
To fund the distribution of more free balls overseas, their company, Uncharted Play (which raised nearly $100,000 on Kickstarter) will begin selling the Soccket at its website, unchartedplay.com. And the company has more energy-producing sports equipment, such as footballs and jump ropes, in the works. Says Matthews, "We're trying to combine play with cutting-edge technology to make the world a better place."