A Makey Makey Christmas

A Makey Makey Christmas


Makey Makey is an Arduino based controller board that allows you to interface with a computer in a variety of creative ways. Unlike many similar controllers on the market Makey Makey is designed to be very simple. This inherent simplicity allows the user to focus on creating an experience, not on technical details and programming. Makey Makey can be used in a wide range of projects, from banana keyboards to game controllers. Of course our favorite way to use Makey Makey is creating experiences for live events.


How it works.


 Power Harness


Conceptually the Makey Makey is extremely simple. Completing a circuit across the board serves as a ‘key’ signal that is sent to the computer you want to control via USB. The Arduino processor on the Makey Makey board uses the Human Interface Device protocol over USB to mimic a keyboard or mouse, allowing the host computer to register inputs from the Makey Makey as keystrokes or mouse clicks.


Makey Makey board has 18 usable inputs, each mapped to a keystroke or function. Some of the default functions are arrow keys, space bar, left and right mouse clicks, and letter keys. To use an input you simply connect a lead to the input, and a second lead to the Makey Makey’s ground connection. When you close the circuit by connecting leads using any conductive object the corresponding signal will be sent to the computer. The beauty of the Makey Makey is that it detects closed circuits over very high impedance conductors. This means that even very poor conductors, such as a banana or a ball of play dough or a graphite pencil line on paper or even the human body can be used to close a circuit and trigger the key signal. With Makey Makey just about anything that can conduct electricity can become a way to interact with a computer.


If the 18 default inputs won’t work for your project, Makey Makey has another trick up its sleeve. Because it is built on Ardunio, it is possible to reprogram the inputs to trigger almost any keyboard key or mouse function with just a few lines of code. Makey Makey works with either Macs or PCs, although if you are running a PC you may need to install drivers to get up and running.




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Makey Makey In Use


Makey Makey just screams interactivity, and our Live Events team has managed to use them successfully to create some unique experiences. Last August we were asked to create a digital pitch area at a healthcare conference. The idea was to create a space where a conference attendee could view a short video pitch for an up-and-coming healthcare product or service. Our team came up with a solution that included several 50” TVs that would play a random pitch video any time an attendee wanted. Enter the Makey Makey buttons, because what’s better than starting a video by pressing a big red button?


Like so many great projects the Makey Makey buttons started off with a little shopping. Thanks to Amazon we were able to get our hands on a few Makey Makey boards and a couple of big red push buttons perfect for the job.


Pitch Area in Use


Once we had the materials in the office we got started with a little building. Getting the button to control the computer took just a few minutes. 2 leads were connected to the tabs on the push button. One lead was tied into the ground on the Makey Makey. The other lead was connected to the input for a right arrow. Once the Makey Makey was connected to one of our Macs via USB each press of the button would trigger a right arrow.


Red Button


Once we had the button triggering the computer we just had a few details to clean up. Each button had an LED inside designed to light up the button. We decided it would be a shame to waste that, so we rigged up a little power harness. The LED was designed to run at 12V DC. Conveniently enough, BlackMagic Mini video converters run at 12V DC, so after borrowing a few power adaptors from our video workbox we had big glowing red buttons.


Now we just needed to mount the buttons. A quick trip to Home Depot solved the problem with some lumber, electrical junction boxes, and paint. The end result was a set of buttons on pedestals, ready to go.


For the pitch area we set up each TV with a button rig and a Mac Mini computer. Each button press would trigger a right arrow in Pro Presenter firing a video in a looping playlist. Between each video Pro Presenter was set up to stop on an event logo. The end result was perfect. Any time someone walked up and pushed the button they would see a pitch video. It wasn’t long before word got out among the conference attendees and we had lines during session breaks of people eager to try the buttons – and view the pitches – for themselves.


Interactivity and creativity can be powerful ways to enhance an experience. Makey Makey is a fun little tool that can help add some new options to your event design.
Dan Almond

Author Dan Almond

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