MaKey MaKey Makes the World your Touchscreen
Stubby-fingered smartphone users unite! No longer must you scrape and scrabble at your small touchscreen, struggling to type out an email, unable to see through…
Stubby-fingered smartphone users unite! No longer must you scrape and scrabble at your small touchscreen, struggling to type out an email, unable to see through all the smudges. An alternative touchscreen input would be a boon to the less adroit — and technology alchemists and MIT Media Lab PhD students Jay Silver and Eric Rosenbaum may be the ones to grant it.
Dubbed MaKey MaKey (a portmanteau of Make + Key), their easy to use USB circuit board connects to a computer on one end, while the other end is alligator clips. Connect some clips to whatever you want to be your touchscreen (even a banana) and attach one to yourself. Touch the banana and you complete the circuit, which sends the same signal to the computer as a keyboard press or mouse click would.
MaKey MaKey began as an extension of Drawdio, also by Silver and Rosenbaum, a clever tool that let you draw designs on pretty much any surface and then touch the drawings to create musical sounds. Both devices take advantage of the fact that almost everything is at least slightly conductive, including the human body. Silver dismisses any safety concerns. “If you are using your body to complete the circuit, which is one of the primary ways to use the circuit, then, yes, you have to connect yourself. Just as you do when you touch your iPhone's screen, you become a capacitor in the circuit,” he said. “In the case of MaKey MaKey, you become a resistor in the circuit. In either case there is no safety concern because the current is so incredibly low.” The extremely low amperes involved are safe enough to be conducted through the human body while still powerful enough to register on a computer.
Whereas Drawdio was primarily a tactile audio experience, MaKey MaKey can be used with any computer program that takes keyboard and mouse input. This has led to novel methods of user input. As seen in the promotional video on their Kickstarter page, beta testers played an online piano with bananas as the keys, a flash version of Mario with a makeshift NES controller made of clay, and even a Dance Dance Revolution clone with buckets of water. The dance game, for example, was exceedingly simple. Each arrow on the keyboard was wired to a bucket, and placing a foot in a bucket activated the corresponding arrow. But playing a dancing game by actually moving around, rather than just with your fingers, is a far more satisfying experience.
More importantly, MaKey MaKey has the potential to be a supplementary interface for smartphones and tablets. Though not yet implemented, Silver confirmed that they are working on such support. If successful, it could eventually be possible to draw a keyboard on a piece of paper and use that to type emails. You could fold it up in your pocket when not needed, clip it on when necessary, and keep your touchscreen out of harms’ way. Unfortunately, it would be unwieldy, as a different alligator clip would be needed for each key, and the MaKey MaKey circuit does not currently support that many connections. A more feasible task would be a larger surface for a popular game like Temple Run. A different page for each directional swipe can turn an individual experience into a multiplayer game. Future iterations of MaKey MaKey could conceivably add more complex variables such as pressure sensitivity. Imagine playing Angry Birds by stretching an actual rubber band. This is all conjecture right now, but it could eventually become reality.
The beauty of MaKey MaKey is that it puts complex technology in the hands of ordinary people, with imagination as the only limitation. This melds nicely with Silver and Rosenbaum’s design philosophy of the world as a construction kit. “[MaKey MaKey] was also born from the idea that taking apart a keyboard and mouse can be pretty fun, then you can make your own switches that control them. But the switches can really only be made of metal, pretty much, and it's not something a beginner is likely to do on their own. The biggest root in my opinion is that we want people to see the world as malleable, and themselves as capable of making change,” said Silver. If their hugely successful, more than half a million dollar Kickstarter campaign is any indication, people agree.