Soccer is the most popular sport in the world in part because all you need is grass and a ball to play with. But while a $ 12 soccer ball doesn’t seem very expensive to those of us in the United States, for most of the developing world, it costs more than a family’s monthly income. Especially when you pair an inflation pump or consider that the internal bladder of a balloon can leak or burst over time, the price of the sport can be prohibitive for a large part of the population.
Recognizing all of this, Japanese design firm Nendo designed an original soccer ball that does not need to be inflated to be kicked. And if a section has a spout, you can just replace it.
Dubbed My Football Kit and designed for recreational ball company Molten, the ball consists of 54 interlocking pieces, which are shipped unassembled. With this flat-pack approach (think Ikea), 20 deconstructed Nendo balls can fit in the space of 12 regular soccer balls, reducing shipping costs.
Instead of relying on air pressure to hold its shape, My Football Kit was inspired by the interwoven frames of takeami, or traditional Japanese bamboo weaving. The kit includes a plastic skeleton, which locks easily with an integrated system of pegs. This skeleton is reinforced by more skeleton, this time in the form of snap-on pentagonal frames to help the ball retain its shape when kicked.
Once this framing is complete, the user is left with a working wired ball, but your toes could easily get stuck in its open-pit polygonal facets. So for the last step, you fill these facets with pluggable polygons made from a stretchy, bouncy resin.
While this design may seem like an exaggeration – a simple one-piece soccer ball now has 54 separate parts! – its modular design ensures that if a panel is damaged, the balloon will still work as the air does not simply escape, rendering it useless. When practical or affordable, this panel can be replaced without replacing the entire ball. Plus, you don’t need a pump to keep it inflated.
If you are wondering why no one has ever thought of this problem before, well, they did! About a decade ago, the One Futball Project raised funds to distribute over a million soccer balls made from a durable rubbery foam, with a unique purchasing model like Tom’s shoes. We reached out to One Futball to find out about the latest developments in the for-profit business. Today, its website is largely non-functional.
As of yet, it’s unclear whether Molten will market the Nendo design and what the company would charge per bullet if it does. We’ve reached out to the company to ask, and we’ll update this story with more information when we have a response.