A couple of weeks ago, after one of my Forbes posts, I got contacted by a publicist working for Makey Makey. They really wanted publicity in Forbes, but that's above my pay grade; I did, however, say that it sounded like the sort of thing my kids would get a kick out of, and I could mention it here...
So, they sent me one. It's a small circuit board with a USB connector and a bunch of places for alligator-clip leads, and functions as an input device for the computer-- if you complete a circuit from one of the clip leads to ground, it records that as a mouse click, or a key press of some sort. On their website, they have a bunch of little programs that let you play music using these, or some basic video games.
The hook is that this lets you turn basically any conductive surface into an input device. You clip the leads to whatever you like, hold the ground connection in one hand, and touch the conductor with the other, and it registers as the appropriate key.
As expected, SteelyKid (age 6.8) found this fascinating, and we tried out a bunch of things. We had a piano set up with a bunch of pocket change (seen in the "featured image" up top), and confirmed that every variety of American coin will, in fact, work. We couldn't get an apple to work, or a shape drawn in pencil (they use bananas in their promotional materials, and show pencil lines working), but a glass of water worked a treat. Then SteelyKid wanted to try apple cider, her drink of choice, and we were able to confirm that clipping one lead to a foil electrode in cider would complete a circuit not just when she touched the cider with her finger, but when she drank cider through a plastic straw.
(Weirdly, a bunch of experiments found that there's an area on her wrist that just doesn't work as a contact point for completing the circuit. I can't figure out what would be causing that-- the corresponding spot on my arm works just fine. )
So, it's a cute toy. If she were a little older, and had more of a sense of programming, we might try writing something of our own. I may yet try her with Scratch, because I think she may have used that in enrichment classes at the JCC. It definitely made an impression, because I showed her how it worked the day I got it, and have fielded requests to play with it again for the better part of a week, now. I also have a couple of ideas for Science Experiments to do with it, once I have time to play around with things again. So, you have that to look forward to...
So, if you're looking for a cute electronic thing to show to an inquisitive kid, well, you could do a lot worse than to check Makey Makey out.