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Hackaball: The Computer You Can Throw

Can a programmable ball put a stop to childhood obesity?

11Jan

The rise in childhood obesity is sometimes connected to the growing number of children playing computer games. One in three children under the age of 10 in the UK are overweight, representing a real issue for society. Unhealthy habits are often ingrained in people early on in their lives, with inactivity increasingly becoming a major problem.

In the U.S, 91% of children - those aged between 2 and 17 - play computer games, up by 13% from 2009. While children still play sports both at school and in their free time, there is a growing section who've swapped playing soccer for a match on EA Sports' FIFA.

At CES 2016, Hackaball - a programmable toy for kids - was one of the most exciting innovations on show. The company's Kickstarter campaign raised $241,122, and its initial pre-order run sold out almost immediately. The next batch, according to engadget, will be available in March.

The product's been touted as a way to combine sporting activities with computer games, while also allowing children to learn about programming. The ball pairs with an iPad app, which users can invent their own games on. The company's founder, William Owen states: 'We took inspiration from one of the oldest play objects - the ball - and looked at how else it could be played with.'

On the face of it, the ball looks fairly typical. Inside, however, its technological capabilities allow it to do a number of exciting things. Devindra Hardawar, Senior Editor at engadget says: 'Kids can program it to do all sorts of things using that sensor — it can change color when you throw it, or if you're not holding the ball steady enough. The idea is that kids will be able to create all sorts of games and learn the basics of programming.'

The product is made up of nine LED lights, an accelerator, a gyro, one speaker and memory. These are, however, well disguised. The outer shell is made out of silicon, which not only increases the ball's grip, but also makes it bouncy so that when kids drop it there's no damage.

It's clear that the product is not only supposed to be fun, but also a way of making learning more enjoyable, something which is likely to make the product more commercially viable. Whether it can have an impact on the country’s obesity levels given the many other issues remains to be seen. The product’s affordability - it costs $85 - means that it will be accessible to most families. It could, therefore, be a catalyst for future products.

The company's Kickstarter campaign has already finished, but you can take a look at a video which shows the product in action.

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