Jay Silver and Eric Rosenbaum, both 32, came up with the idea for the MakeyMakey on a road trip to California two years ago. The device, which is a small, unique circuit board with a USB cable and alligator clips attached, can clip onto any electricity-conducting item which can then be used as a keyboard or game controller. The circuit board is designed to be recognised by a computer as a replacement for a standard keyboard. Rosenbaum explained that the idea behind the technology was to enable people to “see the world around them as a construction kit.” 150 beta versions of the device were sent out to test users, one of which was engineering professor Ms. Thomas of Minneapolis, who added, “My kids love it. My four-year-old daughter was able to plug it in and set it up. She has tried tin foil and Play-Doh and has even managed to connect herself to the kit.”
Silver explained that the device has unlimited possibilities, and that he and Rosenbaum connected the circuit board to a whole host of items during testing. The pair connected a broccoli head to run Skype, created a musical floor, turned two friends and a glass of milk into sound machines and also made beach balls and Play-Doh into game controllers. When questioned about health and safety concerns when using the technology with people and animals, Rosenbaum explained that the amount of current used is very small, and that there are fuses incorporated into the circuit board and the USB port to ensure the device is very safe. The product has been designed to be safe and easy to use as they hope children will enjoy learning about technology through their creativity.
However, Silver and Rosenbaum insist that the device is not just a novelty, and that it has some astounding real-life applications. “A father is currently turning it into a computer interface for his son who is suffering from cerebral palsy,” added Silver, and many people have contacted them about adapting the MakeyMakey circuit board for those who are unable to use a conventional keyboard, which could help them to regain some of their independence.
Moreover, the students believe that it could make a huge impact in schools. “It’s easy for kids to get turned off by science and maths, because of the way it is taught,” Silver added. “We wanted to make it easier for people to use engineering as a tool to fuel creativity.” Ms. Thomas, who trains future engineering teachers, believes that the kit could definitely be used in schools. “It is a great way to engage kids with science and technology. It helped my daughter to understand how circuits work and how to ground herself.”
The students have launched their invention on Kickstarter, a crowdsource funding site for entrepreneurs, and have already received over $440,000 in funding. Rosenbaum also explained that the pair receive a huge number of enquiries daily from people offering paid services and companies wishing to discuss collaborations. They have also been considering plans for the future. “We hope to develop a community of people using MakeyMakey and sharing their ideas and inventions with each other. We have lots of ideas for extensions and add-ons.”
Personally, I think this lovely little invention is great. I think if these had been used in my science lessons, I’d have paid much more attention! But what do you think? Useful or useless? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.