Soccket is a soccer ball that harnesses energy with every kick and volley it gets. Developed by Harvard grads, the toy boasts a successful Kickstarter campaign, surpassing a funding goal of $75,000 by over $17,000 last month. A pendulum inside the Soccket ball swings when the ball moves, generating clean energy for a rechargeable battery stored inside. According to Uncharted Play, Soccket’s makers, thirty minutes of play translates into three hours of light from its companion LED lamp. Pictured above, the little lamp is currently the only appliance it can charge, by being plugged directly into the ball. The ball itself seems relatively unencumbered by its tech features; according to the campaign’s Kickstarter video, Soccket is only about an ounce heavier than a standard soccer ball, and it's filled with specialized foam, so it won’t deflate.
The Soccket is one item among an extensive group of "eco" products that takes an activity usually independent of producing energy (in this case, a fun one) and turns it into an opportunity for clean energy generation. Recalling other kinetic energy devices, like the nPower PEG, which powers handheld electronics while you walk or ride a bike, there’s something immediately appealing about turning play into power. If I want to play soccer anyway during the day, why not get a ball that’ll power a light to read by at night?
However, the primary purpose of the Soccket -- and the main way it’s being marketed, to help poor communities around the world -- has generated some important critiques. There are much more efficiently powered LED lamps available, including these designed and built by a former EcoGeek writer. Is a soccer ball that powers a little lamp truly helpful aid to communities in need, or does it simply sound cool to well-intentioned, privileged individuals?
Aaron Ausland, of the blog Staying for Tea, argues that framing a soccer ball as an eco-friendly "solution" for poor communities "grossly overplays the potential of the ball and misleads investors and buyers about the social impact they get for their money." Ausland, in addition to his thought-provoking list of problems with the Soccket, points out that the Soccket’s generative powers are roughly the equivalent of "four weakly-rechargeable AA batteries." The conversation doesn’t end at his critiques, as Ausland posted a response from Julia C. Silverman, co-founder of Uncharted Play, who emphasized the company’s intent to work with communities, continue their evaluation of the Soccket’s impact, and focus on fun for children, noting that they capped the Soccket’s power so play for kids doesn’t become work for power.
image via Soccket Kickstarter