Build an (easy) Floor Piano!

The household floor piano is a dream no more! The Makey Makey microcontroller makes it super easy (and affordable) to build your very own “foot-strument” out of common household materials.

Grab a Makey Makey kit, some cardboard, and your musician shoes and let’s get building!

  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Estimated Build Time: 60 minutes
  • Cost: $50 (for Makey Makey kit)

 

 

Materials & Tools

Materials

  • Makey Makey Kit
    • 16 Breadboard Jumper Wires
    • 4 Alligator Clips
  • Cardboard
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Plastic Trash Bag (stretchy is best)
  • Duct Tape

Tools

  • Scissors
  • Hot Glue Gun
  • Measuring Tape or Ruler

 

Build the Piano!

1. Build the piano base.

Cut a cardboard base for your keyboard, then divide it into 8 equally sized rectangles — these are the dimensions for your piano keys!

2. Make the piano keys!

Cut out 8 cardboard rectangles using the base dimensions and paint them white.

3. Build the key triggers for the piano.

Cut 16 cardboard rectangles of equal size or smaller than the cardboard piano keys.

Repeat the following for each pair of key triggers:

  • Cover both cardboard rectangles in aluminum foil.

  • Use copper tape to connect one wire to the aluminum foil on each of the key triggers, then cover the connection in duct tape to secure.

  • Cover one of the rectangles with a piece of the plastic trash bag so that the aluminum foil is completely covered. Secure with duct tape.
  • Sandwich the two key triggers together so that the trash bag is a barrier between the aluminum foil.

 

Connect to the Makey Makey!

1. Connect the wires to the Makey Makey – one of the wires goes to ground and the other goes to a keypad (doesn’t matter which wire).

2. Test that the Makey Makey is triggered when you put pressure on the cardboard.

3. Tape the key triggers to the bottom of the white cardboard piano keys. Secure them to the piano base with velcro or glue.

4. Connect one of the wires from each of the key trigger to the six header pins on the back of the Makey Makey board and to two of the arrow keys on the front.

5. Connect the other key trigger wires to the Makey Makey ground.

Recommended to connect the ground wires in two groups of 4, then use one alligator clip per each group of 4.

Write the Scratch Program!

We have 8 inputs, which means we can play an entire octave on our floor piano! (Yes, that was intentional).

Your job: Write a Scratch program that plays 8 successive keys starting at middle C (or wherever you prefer your piano octave to start) using the “play note” function. Or you can copy mine in the photo above 🙂

Aside from the program, just be mindful of what piano key is connected to what Makey Makey pin. It’s easy to get 8 wires a bit mixed up — consider labeling them to save yourself some time (& hair..).

Install & Play!

Consider coating the electrical connections in hot glue. Plug the Makey Makey into your computer, place your floor piano on, well, the floor, and have at it!

Enjoy making beautiful music by stomping on your custom creation.

Micro:Bit Puppet “Text Message” System

Intro

Nearly all of our wireless communication is done using radio waves*, including phone calls, text messages, and WiFi. With its built-in radio transmitters and receivers, the Micro:Bit microcontroller makes it super easy to build all sorts of projects with radio communication.

This particular project is a simple & quick way to send text messages between two Micro:Bit** microcontrollers – the sender writes a (short) message that is transmitted via radio to the receiving Micro:Bit, which shakes a lil’ puppet using a servo motor, and then displays the message on the Micro:Bit LED screen. Each Micro:Bit can be both a sender and receiver.

It’s sort of like a two-person Twitter.. if the tweet notified you via dancing cardboard robot puppet!

*Radio waves are long-wavelength light waves. Check out the electromagnetic spectrum here!

**A huge THANK YOU to Adafruit for donating the Micro:Bit microcontrollers used in this project for educational purposes! yayy thank you for supporting this educational endeavor!! 😀

Materials & Tools

Electronics

Puppet (or other Message Alert System) Materials

Tools

  • Hot Glue Gun
  • Scissors and/or utility knife (e.g. exacto knife)
  • Pencil
  • Ruler or other straightedge

Build the Incoming Message Alert Puppet!

Step 1: Build a cardboard puppet like the one shown in the photo or create your own! Use the paper fasteners to make joints.

Step 2: Build a mounting system to attach the puppet to the servo with skewers and cardboard.

I used a magnet to attach the puppet to the servo mounting system because magnets are awesome, but you can also use glue, tape, velcro, or a variety of other adhesives!

Step 3: Build a stand for the puppet.

  • On an approx. 6 in. x 12 in. cardboard sheet, measure, mark, and cut a hole for the servo body so that the arms of the servo rest against the front of the cardboard sheet.
  • Cut two triangles out of cardboard and glue them on the back of the stand so that the stand, well, stands upright!
  • Cut a hole for the Micro:Bit wires to thread through and add two pushpins on the front to hold the Micro:Bit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Code the Two Micro:Bits!

To start, choose one Micro:Bit to be the sender and the other Micro:Bit to be the receiver. Once both are working as expected, add in the code for both roles.

Use the Make Code Micro:Bit website to program each Micro:Bit. As this is intended as a beginner project, the whole system can be built using the block-based programming language, although adaptations are encouraged and appreciated!

If there is more than one pair of Micro:Bits in the room (i.e. in a classroom setting), remember to set different radio group numbers for each pair.

The sender sends a (short) text based on user inputs over radio, like the example above. Pretty simple!

The receiver moves the servo when an incoming text is received, then scrolls the message text on the LED screen, like in the example below.

Press the reset button to stop sending/receiving the incoming message.

 

Connect the Servo!

Connect the servo red wire to the Micro:Bit 3V power pin, the servo black wire to Micro:Bit ground pin, and the servo white (or yellow) wire to the Micro:Bit input pin P0.

Send all the Messages!

Program both Micro:Bits to be both a sender and a receiver so you can communicate back and forth. Then switch power from the laptop to the battery pack and test out your wireless communication system! When the sender sends a message, the puppet will notify you to check the LED screen so that you can see the incoming message.

How far of a range can you get? Test it out!

There are tons of other extensions to this introductory project, here are some possibilities:

  • Add more message options by adding more inputs or changing how those inputs are read;
  • Instead of a table-top alert system, build a wearable alert system;
  • Send voice messages and/or other sounds.

Happy building!

Prototyping Magnetic Boots!

Walking across large, metal pipes in search of urban adventure, my inner voice joked, “Hey, magnet shoes would be handy right about now.” Well, no arguing with that! Off to build my very own magnetic shoes!

This tutorial gives an overview of my build process for a magnetic boot prototype in hopes of inspiring you to build and test your own whimsical ideas! ‘Cause seriously, making ideas come to life feels like a superpower.

 


Materials


— Sturdy Boots
These had to secure my feet (aka no slipping out) and withstand my body weight. I found a pair of sturdy (although rather large) snowboard boots at a local thrift store which work as a first prototype.

— Rare earth (neodymium) magnets
Small, thin-ish (< 1/4″ thick) magnets with a 10 – 15 lbf rating (see previous step).

— One screw per magnet (or per magnet hole)
Use screws with a length shorter than the sole of the shoe (so they don’t poke your lil’ feetsies.. or add some sort of rubber sole inside).

— Suggestion: One washer per magnet
Supposedly, the washer helps increase the magnetic field of the exposed surface. I haven’t calculated this or done any serious research, so at this point it’s just a design suggestion.


Tools



Drill

— Ruler

— Pen/pencil.

CNC Router and a 3/4″ drill bit

 


Build Process!



1. Level bottom of the boot with a CNC router (or other available method).

Clamp the boots to the CNC table with the bottom facing up — a piece of wood was helpful to keep the boots straight.

Set the zero point of the CNC to be the lowest point on the sole of the shoe, then use a large bit (ours was 3/4″) and level the sole of the shoe to the zero point.




2. Mark boot with tape for location of magnets.



3. For each magnet, drill in screw, magnet, and washer into the bottom of shoe.


Testing!


To test the boot, I stuck it on a roof beam and pulled downwards. I added more magnets and repeated this until I couldn’t pull the boot off by hand, then (slowly) tried to hang from it.

Lessons learned during testing:
1. I ended up using waaay more magnets than I thought, so it is probably worthwhile to calculate how the individual magnet fields are adding together.

2. Magnets need to be level to maximize the total magnetic field strength.

3. There is a limit to how close you can place each magnet depending on the shape and size of its magnetic field. Smaller, round magnets are easier to work with than large, rectangular magnets.

4. Don’t place magnets close to parking passes (or other electronic devices). Also keep them far, far away from large containers of screws.


Results & Next Steps!


At this point, my magnetic shoes are more magnetic “gloves” (lol thanks @jayludden :D). But! I can successfully hang from one boot, so the concept works!

The lessons learned from testing will help improve this prototype design. Currently awaiting more magnets for the second boot (used most of them for the first one), trying different magnet orientations, and searching for a spot to test them upside down.

Stay tuned, will have them up and running, er, well, hanging, soon!

Many thanks to: Tinker Tank at Pacific Science Center for being my build and test center, and to Richard Albritton for the CNC help!