The Truly Flexible Keyboard
MaKey MaKey is a small electronic circuit board which plugs into a computer and gives users an alternate way of providing input. The device works by translating electrical signals from objects into signals which can be recognized by computers. More on that later. Makey Makey allows people to build new input devices using virtually any materials around the house.
How MaKey MaKey Works
There are electrical fields all around us. Actually, they are magnetic fields which are closely related to electricity. Have you ever had your hair rise up due to static electricity in your home? The MaKey MaKey device uses this kind of ambient power to provide input to your computer. Any device will experience electrical signal changes when they come into contact with other devices. One of the best MaKey MaKey demonstrations is a kind of musical keyboard made from bananas. Each banana is wired up to a contact on the MaKey MaKey. When a banana is pressed, its contact detects the change in electrical signal caused by a person's finger. The circuitry deciphers the touch into a distinct computer character which it sends to an attached computer. The computer then responds to the character, perhaps generating the sound of a musical note.
In essence, the MaKey MaKey acts like a computer keyboard. When items are connected to it, they become computer keys each time they are pressed. The background electrical signals are transmitted from a person's finger into items wired up to the circuit. The attached computer receives the signal just like it would from a standard keyboard. If a program is running that responds to the keyboard, it will perform actions based on the characters received. In this way, the first banana generates a "C" musical sound, the second a "D", and so on.
The beauty of the MaKey MaKey is that computer input can now become anything that an imaginative person wants it to be. Besides bananas, the device can respond to any other fruit or vegetable. It can also detect the touch of fingers or of paws. Some owners have made special boards which get touched by their cat's, or other pet's, paws. Still others have made computer input devices from sheets of paper. The use of the MaKey MaKey is purposely not limited by the design of the device.
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MaKey MaKey Poll
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MaKey MaKey on Kickstarter
The designers of the MaKey MaKey invention kit established their product through the Kickstarter web site. They built an informative video that showed some of the things that could be done with a new device that would attach to a computer. People could show their support by pledging money through the web site in amounts from $5 to $950. Over 11,000 people pledged. To launch the MaKey MaKey invention kit, the originators needed at least $25,000; they got $568,106! Most of the pledges were for completed MaKey MaKey kits. This meant that production of kits had to be ramped up in a hurry.
In August, 2012, shipments of the kits to customers were started.
Kickstarter is a new form of funding available for those wishing to develop projects. Known as "crowd funding", the service allows new projects to be described on the web site in video, text and photographs. The pitch is made to potential supporters. For their monetary investment, often as low as $1 and as high as $1000 or more, those interested receive various rewards. These range from simple notes of thanks to completed versions of the product and more. In just a few years, Kickstarter has allowed nearly 30,000 projects to receive millions of dollars in start-up funding. Often the projects were far too risky to attract any other type of funding. Musical artists have released independent albums to fans via Kickstarter. The process allows the artists to keep much more of the money raised, compared to the traditional album publishing system. Ironically, if MaKey MaKey had launched on Kickstarter today, changes on the site would have potentially invalidated the campaign.
The Future Possibilities of MaKey MaKey
The image shows the back of the MaKey MaKey. It shows a list of additional characters that can be hooked up to bananas, or anything else that you want. In the center, the main processor is visible, a black square. This component will run custom programming. The MaKey MaKey is an open source hardware device. It has the ability to drive motors and switches. These might allow someone to develop computer controlled robots with the MaKey MaKey as the core. Various development efforts are underway in this area.
Other people are starting to use the device for new forms of input. Since it can interface practically anything to the computer, it is being configured with various custom switches. Counters can be connected so that each time something touches a pad, it is recorded in a computer file. Wheels can also be connected and arranged so that each rotation generates a signal that is stored in a computer. Many other custom uses of the MaKey MaKey are now being designed.