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The power of soccer: A ball that charges your cell phone

By Ben Wyatt, CNN
  • Four former students from Harvard have created a ball that can create and store electricity
  • The product, dubbed "Soccket," can run a light bulb or a mobile phone from its stored energy
  • Limited-edition prototypes of the ball will be put on sale online by the end of this year
  • Inventors hope the ball will be of most use in poor areas such as Africa's townships

Johannesburg, South Africa (CNN) -- Sepp Blatter, the president of football's world governing body, lauded soccer's "power" to unite as the 2010 World Cup entered its final stages in South Africa this week.

Now four former students from Harvard University have proved beyond doubt that a football can indeed be a powerful thing -- by creating a ball that can charge a mobile phone.

Julia Silverman, one of the co-inventors, told CNN that the product dubbed the "Soccket" ball uses basic technology to create and store electricity.

"We combined a ball with a simple charging device," she said.

"It means when the ball is kicked, it moves around a magnet inside a coil and charges a super capacitor. This stores energy that is released by whatever you plug into it."

Where normal balls have a valve to add more air, the Soccket ball has a plug socket that is compatible with a DC adaptor, allowing everything from a light bulb to a mobile phone to be run from the energy stored inside.

One (child) even said to me it is better than the Jabulani
--Julia Silverman
  • FIFA World Cup
  • FIFA
  • South Africa

Silverman, who lives in Boston, Massachusetts, traveled to South Africa to road-test the latest version of the ball over the month-long World Cup tournament.

At FIFA's Football for Hope tournament, taking place on the outskirts of the Alexandra township near Johannesburg -- where a population of between 350,000 and 500,000 live in an area of 7.6 square kilometers -- the 21-year-old told CNN that the ball could have most impact in the poorest areas of the world.

"For 15 minutes of play you would get three hours of light. Low-energy products work the best, so you wouldn't be able to run a microwave off of this, but we're hoping to make a difference to those who have no energy whatsoever, where it could allow a child to read for three hours at night for example.

"Areas like the Alexandra township could benefit. Our biggest goal is to make the product available to [poor] users.

"We're thinking that in wealthier communities, like America, we'll charge the full price plus a small mark-up so that a child in Africa would get a ball too, for a nominal price."

The leather orb bounces and acts like any normal ball, according to the Soccket team, though the 2010 model is a far cry from the original design of 2008.

"Our first prototype was a hamster ball with shake-to-touch torch inside [a torch that stores charge when shaken.] We rolled it around and when we switched on the torch the light came on, so we thought this could work," Silverman said.

"We then moved to a ball with a bladder that had a light fitted into it. But the model being tested at the 2010 World Cup is the Soccket 2.0, which has a DC jack. So any appliances that have a compatible plug would work."

Controversy surrounds World Cup ball Video

Children from the township played with the usual enthusiasm of football-crazy kids when given the ball for a test drive.

Teko Moleke, a 12-year-old from Alexandra, told CNN he thought the ball was "magic" when shown how it could power a light -- a reaction that Silverman said had been common on her travels.

"The kids who have played with it haven't noticed it is any different, one even said to me it is better than the Jabulani [official World Cup ball] -- but it needs to be robust because some of these kids are kicking the ball very hard!"

Africa, where only one in four people have access to electricity according to a World Bank report conducted in 2009, provided inspiration for the project after each of the four had spent time there.

The ambition now is for limited-edition prototypes of the ball to be put for sale online by the end of the year, and for major charities and NGOs to help with global distribution.

"We're still not sure whether we want to move production to China or keep production to the local areas where the ball will be sold. It's something we're kicking around at the moment," Silverman said.

"We've also thought about basketball and expanding to other sports and we're looking to expand from the DC socket so that other plugs can be incorporated."

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