What kid doesn’t like kicking around a soccer ball? Imagine if this fun activity could also provide enough energy to power something useful in a modest off-grid African village, like a reliable light to cook by or an emergency mobile phone. The sOccket is a prototype soccer ball that captures kinetic energy when it is kicked or thrown, stores it in an internal battery and makes that energy available for a myriad of small but useful purposes. In other words, it’s a fun, portable energy-harvesting power source that is designed to take a kicking.

The sOccket captures kinetic energy through an inductive coil mechanism similar to the nPower PEG that can charge mobile devices by shaking. As the ball is kicked around, a magnet is drawn through a coil which creates a current that is then stored on a battery. This technological wizardry means the sOccet weighs slightly more than a regular 16-oz soccer ball (5-oz more), but the sOccket team say it is anticipating its design will get even lighter. They are also investigating using local materials, meaning product from Africa where the product is targeted.

According to the World Bank Millennium Goals Report, 2006, 95 percent of African countries live off-grid with no access to electricity. The girls at sOccket say that people in some developing countries have been known to walk for three hours just to find an outlet from which to charge a mobile phone. With one of the special soccer balls, the team says the power will literally be in the people’s hands. They anticipate 15 minutes of play time equaling roughly three hours of power for an LED light.

“We're currently in the prototyping stages, but this past summer we piloted a youth program in several areas of Durban, South Africa, and we just recently completed a study of soccer play in households in Nairobi, Kenya,” says the team via its website. “We also eventually plan to develop a high-end sOccket for purchase in the US and Europe.”

The sOccket team says it hopes the invention will help prevent house fires caused by kerosene lamps relied on for lighting by more than 1 billion people worldwide. They report that kerosene is not only expensive in many areas but also highly flammable and the smoke has been known to cause respiratory problems in infants and adults. The big issue for sOccket isn't deciding who kicks the winning goal in a soccer match, but rather who gets to use the power from the ball after the game. To help solve this conundrum, the sOccket team is working within social settings like schools, hospitals and churches, and a recent trip to Kenya has also been beneficial in giving the team a better understanding of individual households' needs.

The four-girl sOccket team began as one of many groups in an engineering sciences class at Harvard University. They undertook a task: acknowledge a need and find a solution. Grouped together because of their experience in the developing world and global health, they understood the need firsthand, and after months of failed ideas, finally settled on the idea of an energy-generating soccer ball.

Currently the sOccet is still at the prototype stage but the team hopes to have a completed version that can be distributed by the end of 2010.