A new portable invention tool that helps dogs take selfies, can turn bananas into musical instruments and transforms Jell-O into a video game controller is sure to get the creative juices flowing for kids when it hits the market this fall.
JoyLabz, the makers of the 2012 Makey Makey Classic keyboard-like invention device, has designed a keychain-sized version that lets users find an array of new uses for everyday objects. It works by simply plugging one end into a computer USB port and then attaching alligator clips to an object that can conduct even a tiny bit of electricity (anything from leaves and cars to silverware and Play-Doh). Computers are then tricked into thinking that object is the keyboard or mouse, allowing kids to do things like use a donut to play YouTube videos. See for yourself here.
The invent-on-the-go toy recently breezed through a Kickstarter funding campaign, which closed in July, banking nearly US$200,000 from just shy of 4,000 backers. Other than price (the Classic version retails for US$49.95 while GO will be priced at US$19.95), the main difference is that the new version only permits pressing one key at a time, whereas the original allows multiple keys to be working at once.
“We have a retail strategy, but it’s more important to just have something that people love. For us, that’s the main focus,” says Jay Silver, founder and CEO of JoyLabz,
But in terms of those retail ambitions, Makey Makey GO ships to Kickstarter backers in November. After that, Scholastic is expected to be the first distributor, before it heads to online and mass retail. Makey Makey Classic is currently available in dozens of stores, including Toys ‘R’ Us, Michael’s, Barnes & Noble, and more than 200,000 units have been sold in three years. And Silver expects many of those distributors to re-up with Makey Makey GO.
Silver, who has a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech, master’s in internet technology from Cambridge and PhD from MIT’s Media Lab, says the idea for Makey Makey, which he co-created with Eric Rosenbaum as grad students, comes from two schools of thought.
First, before inventing Makey Makey, Silver created a circuit called Drawdio that allowed a random object, like a pen, to be used a musical instrument. Once that task was achieved, the goal was to take things a step further and find a way to make objects control computers.
Second, Silver says it’s so important for kids to look at themselves as active makers of change. Whereas young kids will take an object and find a 100 different ways to play with it, most adults have been conditioned to believe that something like a shoe, for example, only serves one purpose. Makey Makey empowers people by giving them a tool to use something in a way for which it wasn’t prescribed.
“The problem is when you see society, or the house you live in, or your life situation, as fixed and think, ‘Oh well. This is just the way it is.’ That’s not good at all. We really need humanity to think they can make a difference and can change their world. That’s very, very important,” he contends. “Makey Makey’s just not convergent. It’s divergent. You can’t innumerate the ways it can be used—like a paintbrush.”
With Makey Makey, Silver says the driving force was to look at something people were stuck on, like how to use their computers creatively (aside from Photoshop and the like), and for his next invention, he hopes to rethink the way video games are played.
“Video games are horribly addictive and outrageously violent on average,” he says. “We would love to be the creative, open-ended confidence builder for video games, or any area of life that’s digital but not open-ended.”