Introducing Hackaball, the computer you can hurl against a wall

A new programmable ball lets you create games on an iPad, then play them in real life.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
3 min read

Hackaball combines old-school play with new-school tech. Hackaball

Get a group of kids together these days and chances are they'll be paying more attention to their phones than each other. Knowing that the siren song of technology is just too hard to resist, but wanting to introduce good ol' kid-to-kid play back into the mix, a group of entrepreneurs has developed Hackaball, a device now raising funds on Kickstarter.

Hackaball combines the oldest of old-school, a ball, with the new -- an iPad. The ball itself consists of a set of LED lights, a speaker, gyroscope, accelerometer, vibration motor, rechargeable battery, memory chip and processor. This is all encased in a nest of rubber and silicone that acts as a shock absorber to protect all that tech from bounces, throws, drops and the various other tortures kids can put toys through. The computer module allows the Hackaball to wirelessly connect with an iPad.

The free app for iPad then allows kids to easily program the ball for a variety of games (that's the "hack" part. Get it?). For example, they could create a game of catch in which the ball is programmed to glow blue until it's dropped, then after it hits the ground, it'll turn yellow for five seconds. If someone can grab it while it's still yellow, they'd get a point. If not, it the ball would turn red and the person who dropped it would lose a point. Tension would build in deciding whether to make a grab for the ball or not when it's dropped.

I just had a blast making that game up, and I don't even have a Hackaball in my possession. And that's truly the fun part of device. Inventing the games that can be played with it is as much fun as actually playing them. In fact, even though the makers say the Hackaball is for kids aged 6 to 10, I think adults could have a lot of fun with the gizmo at a party. Beer Hackaball anyone?

Hackaball arrives "broken" and the first game is to fix it using the iPad app. Hackaball

The ball can be programmed to show different lights and make sounds in response to a variety of actions like shaking, dropping and bouncing, so the number of games that can spring from it are limited by imagination only. One of the games the makers suggest is using it to play "Truth or Dare." If you shake the ball and it turns red, it's truth. Simply holding it until it turns blue means dare. The ball can also be used as an alarm clock that you can hurl at a wall to silence -- definitely a cathartic way to start the morning.

As players develop more games for the Hackaball and solve problems, they unlock more features of the toy. In fact, the thing arrives "broken" and the first task is a cleverly masked tutorial in using the iPad app to get it working.

At the time of writing, there are still plenty of Hackaballs available for the early-bird price of $65 (about £40, AU$85). After they're gone, the price will go up to $69 (about £45, AU$90). The creators are hoping to raise a total of $100,000 and expect to ship the balls in December 2015.