Reaping the Rewards: MaKey MaKey GO

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A MaKey MaKey Go in the flesh. Photo by Derrick Schneider
A MaKey MaKey Go in the flesh. Photo by Derrick Schneider

If you’ve read any issues of Make: Magazine in the last few years, you’ve probably seen reference to MaKey MaKey, a simple prototyping board for thinking-out-of-the-box inventions. While the banana piano is the Hello World of MaKey MaKey, more creative projects, such as a musical room, aren’t hard to find.

So I barely hesitated to back it when JoyLabz crowdfunded a MaKey MaKey GO as “an invention kit on your keychain.” Shipping was delayed by a couple weeks, but mine showed up the other day in the kind of box you might find hanging on a rack at a toy store, and I quickly plugged in the acrylic-encased control.

The now “Classic” MaKey MaKey and the GO work the same way: Activating a touch point on the device–the plus sign on the GO–acts like a key press on a USB keyboard. The banana piano starts with a piano app that translates keyboard keys into musical notes; there just happen to be bananas completing the circuit. While the Classic offers a range of inputs, the GO offers just one. Trigger either a space bar or a left-mouse click (you can remap that if you really need to).

The pared-down functionality of the GO mirrors its friendlier interface. Plug in your GO; the end turns green. Toggle between space bar and mouse click as the outputs, and watch the colors at the end change from blue (mouse click) to red (space). Touch any contact and LEDs light up to tell you what happened. Instant feedback makes for a great experience and easy debugging.

What can you do with a single input? Not as much as you can do with more, right? But constraints breed creativity. Their site shows people making a selfie studio on a slip-and-slide, a timer on a slackline, and more. For my project, I wired the attached alligator clip–the input contact point also sports a magnet on the back for more flexibility–to two others that were in turn attached to finger cymbals in my daughter’s toy box. Then I wrote a quick Processing sketch (any language works, including Scratch–touches register as key presses regardless of the program that’s listening) that would play a sound when the space bar was pressed. When the cymbals touched, the computer played its sound. Pipe that gong through the speakers, and those toy cymbals have an extra bang. Ship it!

This campaign delivered a solid final product that will be sure to excite future makers from now on. I’d bet at least one Burning Man project in 2016 will have a GO at its heart. If you’re hoping for the full power of a MaKey MaKey on a keychain dongle, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a quick, compact way to trigger an action on your computer from a real-world object, the GO may be just the thing for your maker toolbelt. Or, you know, keychain.

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