Explaining young people that objects conduct electrons can be frustrating and, at times, terribly boring. But if you tell an entire classroom to transform a basket of fruit into a computer keyboard, then things change. Curiosity is unleashed and a lesson on electrical conductivity becomes more enjoyable.
This is, more or less, what happens when you put your hands on Makey Makey. It may look like an old Super Nintendo controller, but it is actually an electronic card capable of transforming electrical impulses in computer input. This means that whatever is connected to Makey Makey becomes an 18-key keyboard. It can be anything, as long as it is not made of insulating material.
A Makey Makey is very easy to use. Just connect it to your computer through a USB cable and connect the terminals to the chosen electrical power source. To be honest, there is plenty of choice because the list includes everything from ketchup, graphite (pencil lead), lemons, plants, coins, grandma and her silverware, moist stuff, various types of food, dogs, cats, aluminium foil and even rain.
Once ready, the plug and play interface allows you to let go of your creativity. Just let the electrons run and see what happens. A staircase can become a piano, four buckets full of water change into an interactive platform and a few pieces of modelling clay can get you to play Super Mario. Makey Makey is made to play, but behind it there is a lot of electronics, including firmware by Arduino Leonardo. All hardware is open source and, if necessary, the entire software can be reprogrammed by whoever knows a bit of code.
Behind Makey Makey (the name comes from the combination of Make and Key), there’s Eric Rosenbaum and Jay Silver, two PhD students at MIT. To make it they asked for support through a crowd funding campaign on Kickstarter in June 2012. The two inventors needed 25,000 dollars. In a month, they put together 568,000… The idea worked, definitely. If you want one, put your hand up. Here you’ll find everything you need to know. Have fun!