Review And A Build: Makey Makey, A Banana Piano, And Mario

We’ve been getting a lot of emails on the Hackaday tip line about the Makey Makey. This business-card sized circuit board turns everything – bananas, Play-Doh, water, and people – into a touch interface.

There have been a ton of blogs that have written about the Makey Makey Kickstarter and debut at the Bay Area Maker Faire, but Hackaday has been mum on the pending release of the Makey Makey. There’s a reason for that: [Jay] and [Eric], the MIT Media Lab rats who came up with the Makey Makey, offered to send a demo board out to somebody at Hackaday. Well, here’s the review of all the cool stuff you can make with the Makey Makey.

The Makey Makey is a simple device that is designed to make everyone an inventor. On the front of the board are a couple holes for alligator clips to plug into, and on the back is a USB plug. Plug an alligator clip into anything conductive, and attach the ‘Earth’ lead to your body to turn anything into a touch sensor. On the back there’s a bunch of easily-breadboarded headers that expand the six inputs on the front to 16 inputs that can send any input to a PC.

What you can do with it

Already, the standard “first thing” to make with the Makey Makey is the banana piano. In fact, it’s the first example listed in the Beta instruction manual included in the package [Jay] and [Eric] sent me. Even Hackaday’s own circuit god [Sprite_tm] built a clone of the Makey Makey banana piano, so I figured I’d give it a go.


Yes, shakey cam.

To rig this banana piano up, all I did was attach a few leads to a hand of bananas, plug them into the Makey Makey, and ground myself with an improvised ESD ankle strap made out of aluminum foil. Load up the Makey Makey demo piano page and I have a banana piano on my desk. I’ve really got to hand it to [Jay] and [Eric] on this one. This thing is a blast.

After that, I decided to step things up a notch and make a giant Super Nintendo controller out of bits of aluminum foil:


I had a Genesis growing up. Obviously.

I honestly can’t say enough about how cool the Makey Makey is. It’s a completely open toolbox to build anything you want. I was giddy when I put the banana piano together, and I’m sure my blood pressure was rising during my many preliminary tests of Super Mario World.

Hardware specs

It wouldn’t be a Hackaday review without at least a paragraph on the hardware. The Makey Makey is loaded with an ATMega32U4 (the same microcontroller found in the brand-new Arduino Leonardo), is compatible with the Arduino IDE, and fully reprogramable through the 6-pin AVR header. The USB port operates just like any other USB HID device, so if your computer can use a USB keyboard it can use the Makey Makey.

On the reverse side of the Makey Makey, there are 16 female headers that breakout into sensors for additional keys. Currently the Makey Makey will send WASDFGHJ, up, down, left, right, left click, and right click to your computer, but that can be easily remapped in the Arduino environment when the Makey Makey source is released ([Jay] says they’ll release the source at least by the time they ship, if not sooner). In total, the enterprising maker has 18 touch-sensitive inputs that can be mapped to any USB input.

In closing…

The Makey Makey is friggin’ awesome. Think of just about any project you’d like to make – musical beers, for instance. You can do that with the Makey Makey. It’s a fabulous toy that is the perfect introduction for that inquisitive elementary school student you’re in charge of, and more than enough to get even the most jaded teenager interested in building something cool. It’s more than worth the price of admission, especially when there’s so much you can do with it.

14 thoughts on “Review And A Build: Makey Makey, A Banana Piano, And Mario

  1. Wonderfully silly video on the makeymakey site, love it!

    You could really freak some people out by ‘alarming’ things that you wouldn’t think could be alarmed, just remember to capture it on video.

    1. If you can believe Sprite_tm, yeah. It’s basically a board built around the CapSense library (although it might not use the capsense lib…)
      I’m an idiot, see below.

      I’ve never had a board in front of me that actually makes me giddy.

      1. Yeah I don’t get it either. This isn’t a new concept and although it has been marketed well – I don’t get it. But it has been AMAZINGLY popular even though it doesn’t seem to bring much “new” to the table? What am I missing here? Does it simply bring the level of accessibility down enough that people now suddenly can “get it” easily?

      2. @Hackerspacer:

        There’s nothing new here, stuff like this has been around for years. Like just about *everything* popular, it’s an issue of how it’s presented.

        Now, 20 years ago, how would you introduce kids to electricity? Probably a lantern battery, knife switch and a light bulb. That worked for Mr. Wizard, but you’ve got to wow kids nowadays.

        Yeah, touch detection has been done before, but the Makey Makey is packaged so incredibly well I’d feel very comfortable introducing a 6-year-old to electronics with the Makey Makey. Instead of lighing up an LED, they actually get to do something cool.

        There’s also the ‘depth’ issue – there isn’t much in the way of an instruction manual, besides a few tutorials. After that, everything is open ended. While I was waiting for FedEx to deliver this thing, I was spending a lot of time figuring out *what* to make. I actually spent less time making the SNES controller than it took for me to decide to make an SNES controller. That’s pretty much the fundamental inventor trait, and no other ‘toy’ does that.

        I love the open ended aspect of it. If you’d like a video game analogy, a Radio Shack kit is like Half Life 2, the Makey Makey is like Minecraft. They’re both awesome and both do their job, but you can’t build a computer in Half Life. That’s something you just don’t find in ‘beginner’ electronic kits.

        I’ve got a few nieces and nephews that are around 6-10 years old. This is what they’re getting next Christmas.

    2. Actually we’re not doing cap sensing at all. Here’s the relevant bit from our kickstarter page: “For sensing closed switches on the digital input pins, we use high resistance switching to make it so you can close a switch even through materials like your skin, leaves, and play-doh. We use a pull-up resistor of 10-50 mega ohms. This technique attracts noise on the input, so we use a moving window averager to lowpass the noise in software, saving money on hardware filtering.”

      1. Do you provide any source code?

        The kickstarter mentions that you can reprogram it in “arduino mode”, would I write over the code that does the lowpass filtering if I did that?

  2. I like this idea as an _educational_ toy, although for projects-to-use (or play with in groups) the requirement to attach a wire to the user (or have a two part switch) decreases the appeal some. It also looks great for things like ending late night arguments about whether or not unripe cherimoya conduct.

    … d’oh – I just realised this might be *the* board for PC-controlled watering devices. “When there’s a key-up event for ‘j’, give the spider plant more water.” Or perhaps cue a device to play a “please go potty” recording when a wet bed is detected – with enough inputs for a quintuplet birthday party sleepover.

    And what’s different from what already exists? Bonus time, since there’s no “debug the HID library function calls” time loss!

  3. I bought one.. Actually two. Now I am staring at them – why the heck did I buy? Yeah, I can connect something to act as KB or mouse. But I already have KB and mouse. What’s the point? I’d understand if it could work without a computer. And I suppose it could – I’d need to research that Arduino thing. But I suddenly don’t understand all the hoopla about doubling the mouse and 6 keyboard keys.
    Anyone can tell me something I can do with it useful?

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