Hackaball teaches kids to code through creative play

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Kids can control the behavior of the Hackaball through a companion iPad app

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We've seen a number of clever learning tools aimed at future generations of roboticists and programmers recently. The latest educational plaything to join the likes of DynePods, the Kibo and the Wigl bot is Hackaball. It's a computer in a ball that kids can program using an iPad, and then throw it around, bounce it off walls and kick it about in completely made up games.

Developed by Map (the design minds behind Kano) and Made by Many, the Hackaball computer in a ball is aimed at encouraging creative play and physical activity in 6-10 year olds. The ball is made up of two translucent plastic halves, which snap together around a silicone membrane. A perforated stretchy silicone outer skin is then placed over the orb for something a little more tactile and eye-catching.

Kids get their programming hands dirty by creating games using a free iPad app. The app has a number of games already loaded and ready for wireless transfer to the Hackaball, but also includes locked features and "broken" games that children will need to unlock or fix before they can play, teaching them the basic principles of game design and programming in the process. Pint-sized programmers can choose to get creative on their own, too, and use a building block interface to create entirely new games.

The Hackaball includes a rechargeable battery, onboard memory and built-in motion sensors that can detect when the ball is being dropped, bounced, kicked, and shaken. The device responds to such abuse by changing the color of the nine LEDs, playing sounds through the built-in speaker or creating a buzz with the help of the included vibration motor. Youngsters can control such behavior through the app.

Once a game has been loaded onto the Hackaball, it can be played without needing to carry the app-packing iPad to the park with you. And though weatherproof, the designers say that it's not waterproof, so games outside in a little rain should be OK, but bath time is off limits.

Each of the project's seven prototype iterations have undergone testing with children, parents and schools, and the team has found the Hackaball breaking free from its intended use when exposed to the creative minds of youngsters – finding use as props in plays, imitating an alarm clock, getting questions thrown at it like a magic 8 ball, and even being used as a robotic fart machine

The Hackaball project has launched on Kickstarter to get the little hackable ball into the playful hands of kids. An early bird package of one Hackaball and the free app is pitched at US$65, rising to $69 when those have been snapped up. The campaign is due to end on April 2 and, if all goes to plan, the first devices are expected to start shipping in December.

Have a look at the pitch video below for a little more on the Hackaball.

View gallery - 12 images

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