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Sierra Magazine: Explore, enjoy and protect the planet.
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ACT | On Your Convictions

Jessica O. Matthews, New York City, cofounder of Uncharted Play
Jessica O. Matthews, New York City, cofounder of Uncharted Play | Photo by Natalie Brasington

SMART PLAY

"People think serious issues require serious solutions. I think that's wrong. Play can be used to provide tangible things to people who need them. I'm pretty much always 'work-playing.' Every day I practice rolling a ball off my foot. It's part of my job now.

"The Soccket is a soccer ball designed for the developing world. It's durable, it's 95 percent recyclable, and it doesn't need to be inflated. When you kick it, a gyroscope generates and stores energy. Every Soccket comes with an LED lamp that can be plugged into the ball when the sun goes down.

"In a place where the day ends at dusk, it can mean eliminating the use of kerosene—whose fumes are horrible for everyone in the room. And it can mean better play. We were just in Brazil, where kids were doing the sickest moves, but they were doing those moves with bottle caps. In India, we saw kids kicking half a brick with their bare feet.

"My partner at Uncharted Play [Julia Silverman] and I have backgrounds in the social sciences. People often ask who really invented the Soccket, and really, it's us. If you can Google something, you can learn how to do it.

"For the first model, we took the hand crank from a rechargeable flashlight and shoved it into a soccer ball. Now we use a simple pendulum gyroscope. It's a design I sketched out when I was a junior at Harvard. Anyone can do the electrical part. A trained monkey can do the wiring. The hard part was creating a ball that felt like something you'd want to play with.

"We're rolling out a 'smart ball' in late fall. Users will be able to track their hours of play and spend them on a website where credits act as currency for social progress. Ten hours of soccer could buy, for example, a playground in Zimbabwe. We want this purchase to be the start of your engagement with the issue, not the end. When you buy the smart ball, your connection to the global community begins." —interview by Jake Abrahamson

POWERBALL After getting kicked around for 30 minutes, the Soccket can power an LED lamp for three hours.

ON THE WEB Learn more about the Soccket at unchartedplay.com.

 


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