Jessica Matthews, the co-founder and CEO of Uncharted Play, was an undergraduate at Harvard when she and a handful of other students came up with a simple yet brilliant idea: make soccer, a popular pastime in many developing (and developed) nations, a useful activity.
The Soccket, a soccer ball that generates and stores electricity during game play, was born in 2009. The ball was immediately a hit. For every 30 minutes of play, the ball can juice up an LED lamp for three hours, cutting down on toxic kerosene lamp use. Just plug an LED lamp into the light, and voila, free energy.
This past February, Uncharted Play hit Kickstarter with a campaign giving backers the chance to get their own ball. But after years of prototyping and deploying the ball (there are about 2,000 to 3,000 on the ground and 12,000 to 13,000 pending orders), why launch a campaign now?
“We didn’t want to do a Kickstarter campaign until we were pretty certain that we had the ball ready for the developed market versus the developing world market,” says Matthews. “We came to a point where we have the assembly, we know where it needs to be, what needs to happen. Now it’s about streamlining and retail.” These days, Uncharted Play’s assembly process is manual-labor intensive; a flood of requests from Kickstarter backers will help the company scale up.
Uncharted Play has made some changes to the ball since it was first developed. The first iteration could be inflated and deflated, but it didn’t last long. The second ball was really heavy. The third ball wasn’t that heavy, but it was rigid and had a full-size gyroscope inside. The version available on Kickstarter (a standard Soccket and lamp goes for $99) is dense, water-resistant, made with a super light foam, and contains a fist-sized gyroscope.
“This version is significantly lighter and more efficient in terms of power generation. The only thing we couldn’t replicate in terms of a normal ball is the bounce. It was a tradeoff between wanting it to be hard or light with no bounce,” says Matthews.
In addition to the standard ball, Uncharted Play is offering tricked-out upgrades for backers if it reaches certain stretch goals in the Kickstarter campaign. One version has emergency cell phone charging capability, so users can charge their iPhones instead of a lamp. Another features a revision to the circuit board that tells players how much energy they have generated.
Matthews is confident that Uncharted Play will be able to deliver its products to Kickstarter backers on time, unlike so many other projects out there. By the end of the year, the company plans to release the Soccket in online retail and pop-up shops.
“We put this together for our fans, the people who have been on our Facebook page, Twitter feed, and mailing list,” says Matthews. “Ever since they heard about us in 2009, the idea was to get them the ball first.”