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
We've discussed the pedestrian resource Walk Score before, but there's a new company taking a different angle on rating the walkability of communities. While Walk Score rates addresses, Walkonomics rates streets. The UK-based company has only covered locations in England as well as US cities New York and San Francisco so far, but Walkonomics has the ambitious goal to rate every street in the world, according to criteria that go way beyond distance traveled. Using publically available data and user ratings to fill in the gaps, Walkonomics attempts to account for everything from hilliness and crime statistics to how much fun or relaxing it is to walk in any given area. Eight criteria are rated individually and tallied into a street's total score, so if some factors are more important than others to users, the score's breakdown is readily available.
Adam Davies, the company's founder, envisions Walkonomics will eventually offer customized directions based on each user's needs. Unfortunately, as Pando Daily reports, the company has a long way to go before this is possible. If they continue to rely heavily on publicly available data, opening in places like my small Connecticut city seems to be far off. However, if the company can continue to expand and gain more resources, they'd serve as another widely-available source that helps pedestrians, encourages walking, and emphasizes the importance of designing more pedestrian-friendly communities.
That last one's a stretch, to be sure--of course no app alone can engender or even promote changes in urban design. However, the more pedestrians literally take to the (safe to walk) streets, perhaps the more communities will increase their walkability and make structural changes to accommodate. Any technology that can empower pedestrians seems (pardon the obvious pun) a step in the right direction.
If you happen to live in New York City, San Francisco, England, or plan on walking through these places anytime soon and have a smartphone, you may find some use in their iPhone or Android app. According to their website, they've rated over 600,000 streets in these locations.
image: screen capture via Walkonomics website
What if human waste, what’s left after our bodies extract energy-producing nutrients from our food and drink, could itself be transformed into energy? Four African teenagers went beyond asking this question: they created a generator powered by human urine. The machine, built by 14-year-olds Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, Faleke Oluwatoyin, and 15-year-old Bello Eniola,was presented in Lagos, Nigeria at the fourth annual Maker Faire Africa this November. The pan-African Maker Faire features and supports inventions that work to address problems like the worldwide need for energy production.
According to the Maker Faire Africa website, the machine turns 1 liter of urine into 6 hours of electricity and works like this: urine goes into an electrolytic cell, which extracts the hydrogen from the pee (specifically from the urea, one of the main compounds of urine). This hydrogen is purified in a water filter, and then pushed into a gas cylinder. There, the gas cylinder pushes the hydrogen into a liquid borax cylinder, where moisture is removed from the hydrogen gas. Finally, the purified hydrogen gas is pushed into the generator to power it.
As with all new inventions in alternative energy, this generator isn’t a panacea for our global energy problems. NBC’s John Roach offers a “reality check” concerning the pee-powered generator, pointing out that the Maker Faire Africa website does not list the wattage produced, so we don’t know just how much the generator could power. While Roach’s article tempers excitement about the pee generator, it does point to where this technology could be used effectively: wastewater treatment facilities where the pee already flows, ready to be put to use.
Perhaps machines like these could eventually become features of wastewater treatment facilities. Such a resourceful new invention that turns waste into electricity could turn wastewater treatment facilities into places where wastewater is not only treated, but where pee turns into power.
image: CC BY 2.0 by Erik (HASH) Hersman
Swedish Designer Eddi Törnberg has designed the best human-powered work station we've seen yet because unlike other concepts that require you to do things like ride a bike while you're working, it doesn't require a person to do anything more than sit and work. The project, called "Unplugged," powers the various gadgets we use to work -- laptops, lamps, etc --through our small constant movements and body heat.
The desk chair is equipped with a metal seat that gets hot as a person emits body heat, but the underside stays cools through a pattern of metal fins. Electricity is produced through the Seebeck Effect where an electric charge is created when a material is hot or warm on one side, but cool on the other.
The other energy-harvesting part of this set up is a rug that lies under the desk that is outfitted with piezoelectric crystals that generate electricity when pressure is applied to them. Each random shuffle, stomp, and rolling back and forth of the chair is a source of electricity.
The final part of Unplugged is plant-powered rather than human-powered. A potted plant provides electrcity through a process similar to a potato battery.
Unplugged is definitely more of a concept than a working product, but if this set-up were put to use, it could generate a nice chunk, though probably not all, of the energy needed to get through the workday.
via The Atlantic Cities
Images via Eddi Törnberg