• Product Development
  • Machine Learning
  • Firmware Development
  • Industrial Design

Spark is New Zealand’s largest telecommunications and digital services company, Spark New Zealand has a powerful purpose: To help all of New Zealand win big in a digital world.

Spark’s creative agency, Colenso BBDO, came to us with a simple but powerful product concept. How might we use technology to encourage kids to do outdoor activities and find a balance with technology in their lives?

Play by Spark - Case Study


Being a product for kiwi kids, the natural selection of outdoor activity was a sports ball. Initially, we designed solutions for both soccer and rugby balls, but took the rugby ball all the way through the design process. We let our imagination run wild with what features a rugby ball could have. 

We were obsessed with the ball UX being no different than any other ball, while packing in features that encourage kids to go outside and enjoy it. Naturally, those features ended up being skill or record based. Who doesn’t want to see how high they could throw the ball, or do the fastest spin pass? 

While building the feature set, we did market research to determine product market fit and helped develop the business model to mass produce and distribute the product.


To detect grubber kicks, spin passes, float passes or how high the ball went, we needed to pack a bunch of sensor data analysis in a small space. We didn’t want to ruin how the ball performed, so we worked closely with Gilbert to pack our electronics on the opposite side to the ball valve. The final production electronics and impact protection weighed in at 19 grams, similar to the weight of the inflation valve.

We didn’t want the ball to look different from any other ball, so all charging is wireless, and all communication is via Bluetooth Low Energy. It also needed to be kid-proof and water-proof, so an entirely closed system was ideal to provide protection. The primary movement data was captured by an accelerometer and all processing was handled by the Nordic system on a chip. To define the sensor limits and characteristics in order to evaluate different skills, we used machine learning to build models from our extensive training data. We developed a cross platform API for the front end app developers to sync the insights.

The product went through to Design Validation Testing and we manufactured 65 units for in market trials.

Impact & Future

Spark worked with families from across New Zealand to put the smart ball to the test. For three months they took on a series of challenges that were designed to help them manage screen time.

Leading NZ child psychologist Dr Emma Woodward developed a trial programme to help Kiwi families achieve a healthy balance of screen time and playtime. She reviewed the process and offered tactics on how to negotiate tantrums and other balance-based wizardry.

80% of families reported their child actively playing away from devices. 

90% of families reported arguing less when screen time was over.

40% of kids were sleeping better. 

Spark ‘Play’ won the Grand Prix for Healthcare at the Spike Asia awards 2021.