Sunday, April 14, 2013

Dance the Night Away

I have been meaning to talk to you guys more about more of my dad's and my projects. So today I think I will tell you about our Dance Dance Revolution board.

My dad was on Kickstarter last fall when he saw a popular project called Makey Makey and donated to it. When it arrived, we toyed around with different projects and ideas that we could use for my school’s Halloween Carnival. The Makey Makey is a circuit board that connects to your computer, and takes electrical signals from specific output spots connecting back to it, and transforms them into different key strokes. You can have up to six different keys, the arrow keys, the space bar, and a mouse click. You can run wires from the outputs for each separate key on the board to anything that can conduct electricity. By connecting yourself to ground, whenever you touch it the key will be “pressed.” This has a lot of potential. The first project idea for the Makey Makey that we had was to use pumpkins to make a drum set that kids could play on. They would wear a wristband that connected to the ground on the Makey Makey, and each pumpkin would be hooked up to a different key depending on the program we used. The first problem we had was finding a program. When we finally did and got a working prototype, we realized that it would not be a good activity for the kids at the carnival.

While searching for a drum program, we found this Dance Dance Revolution knockoff with a bunch of songs you could use. After we decided not to do the drums, we went back to that program and started playing around with it. The biggest challenge we faced was how could we use the Makey Makey to create the foot-pad buttons used on Dance Dance revolution boards? We looked back into how the Makey Makey really worked, and found the answer. We were too focused on making it a button, instead of how the Makey Makey actually works - transferring electricity and connecting circuits. We would create pads of conducting surfaces that would be connected to the arrow keys through the Makey Makey. Then when the player wearing the wire wristband connecting to the unit would step on the pads, they would complete the circuit and activate the keys. We decided to use aluminum tape as our conductive surface, and attach it onto a plywood board as a base. We just made squares of tape instead of arrows to make sure that the player would have enough surface area to step on and complete the circuit. We bought telephone wire from Lowe’s, because it had five different, color-coded wires we could use. We took four of them, connected them to each of the arrow key inputs on the Makey Makey using alligator clips, and stuck an exposed end in between layers of aluminum tape on the board.

We wanted to test the board under different circumstances to get a better idea of how to use it at the carnival, so we set it up at my birthday party and tried it there. It was a huge success, and all of the kids at the party had a lot of fun. We learned that the tape pads were very conductive, and players could even wear socks and run it, and it would still work. The most finicky part of the set up was the alligator clips, because they would move around and get unplugged. At the carnival we ended up taping down all of the wires, and moving the board farther away from the computer so that the wires would not be disturbed.

It was a huge success at the carnival as well. The one thing that surprised me the most about people’s reactions to it was the amazement at how complicated it was and how I actually did it. This made me realize why people can have a hard time starting projects - because they over think it and say to themselves, “that’s way too complicated, I would never be able to make it work” where instead they should go ahead and try. They do not take risks and start projects, therefore they never find out if they can do something or not. The moral of this story is that risks are necessary in life, and that failure is always an option, because even then you are learning how you can do better.