COMPUTER CORNER

Reviewed by
Bill Gillespie and Rosemary McDowall

Not so long ago we received a message from our friend Matt Gillard from Sammat Education. Matt said that he had something we might be interested in reviewing but, he suggested that we first go to YouTube and type in MaKey MaKey and watch a clip before deciding to review the product. Intrigued, we jumped online, watched a few clips and decided we just had to review this product.

According to the website, MaKey MaKey is an invention kit for the 21st century. It turns everyday objects into a mouse or touchpad. Best of all MaKey MaKey works with any laptop or computer with a USB port and a recent operating system.

For those seeking more technical information, MaKey MaKey is a printed circuit board with an ATMega32u4 microcontroller running Arduino Leonardo bootloader (a bootloader is code that is executed before any operating system starts to run).

It uses the Human Interface Device (HID) protocol to communicate with your computer and it can send keypresses, mouse clicks, and mouse movements. For sensing closed switches on the digital input pins MaKey MaKey uses high resistance switching so you can close a switch even through materials such as your skin, leaves, and play-doh.

MaKey MaKey uses a pull-up resistor of 10–50 mega ohms. This technique attracts noise on the input, so they use a moving window average to low pass the noise in software, saving money on hardware filtering.

There are six inputs on the front of the board, which can be attached via alligator clipping, soldering to the pads or any other method you can think of. There are another 12 inputs on the back — six for keyboard keys and six for mouse motion—which you can access with jumpers via the female headers.

If you wish to use a different set of keys or otherwise change the behaviour of your MaKey MaKey, you can simply reprogram it using the Arduino environment.

So how can you use MaKey MaKey? We jumped online and downloaded a musical keyboard program. We then attached MaKey MaKey to the computer and attached the alligator clips from the circuit board to a variety of fruit that we had on hand.

By touching the various fruit we were able to play the musical keyboard. We have to say that our three-year-old twin testers loved the idea of the fruit playing musical notes. We jumped online and found out that other MaKey MaKey users had turned their stairs into music keyboards so our idea wasn’t so original.

The real question is not so much what can MaKey MaKey do but what can’t MaKey MaKey accomplish. We saw examples where people had turned themselves into input devices to play first-person shooter games. One person had attached the alligator clips to foil to his feet to walk through the game, to his glasses to “see” the game, and to his hands to turn them into weapons. The MaKey MaKey website also has a number of suggestions to get you up and running.

The limit is not the product itself but the imagination of the user. The product is so easy to use that we could see Stage 2 students using MaKey MaKey quite effectively. This creative, problem-solving product would be right at home in any classroom.

Hardware supplied by Sammat Education. Hardware reviewed by Rosemary McDowall and Bill Gillespie. Bill teaches at Manly Village PS and Rosemary at The Forest High. They can be contacted at computer_corner2000@yahoo.com