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We all love playing with touchscreens, but some us (especially kids) can get sucked into the graphics and finger swipes for hours on end, thus totally forgetting about the richer physical ways of interacting with the real world.

Have no fear! The iPad Inventor’s Kit will come to the rescue and give you everything you (or your kids) need to start making new gadgets that go beyond your touchscreen to do awesome and exciting things!

In fact, a lot of the frustrating things about touchscreens can be improved when you think beyond the pixels and get your hands dirty with a little tape, wood, and foil.

If you're in a hurry,jump ahead to Step 4 to see some examples of what you can make.

Want to draw a straight line? Use a physical ruler with a handle! Want the real feeling of turning a knob? Place a block of wood on the screen and turn that instead! Want to draw with a pencil instead of your finger? Wrap some foil around an unsharpened pencil (or even just use a sausage), and voila!

And beyond the basic touchscreen gadgets, you can also invent crazy mechanical contraptions with rubber bands, clothespins, and other household items (like this iPad piano interface with 15 working keys) that are only limited by your imagination!

While it’s super fun to invent your own futuristic iPad gadgets, it’s also an engaging way to explore the fundamental concepts of mechanical systems, physics, basic electronics, interface design, and engineering. And if you also take some time to document your own creations as you go, it’s also a great opportunity to try your hand at photography, video editing, technical writing, and community building -- win-win!

All you (or your kids) need are some materials and inspiration to get the creative juices flowing. So gather up an old shoe box and start loading it full of supplies to enable your inner-inventor.

And if you come up with something exciting, make sure to share it back with the world (tweet with the hashtag #ipadinvention, or post on instructables, facebook, google+, etc.) to inspire others!

Step 1: Gather the Materials

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Shoe box (to keep your kit together)
  • Aluminum foil
  • Random pencils, pens, markers
  • Tape
  • Rubber bands
  • Paper clips and metal twist-ties
  • Clothespins
  • Cardboard
  • String (kite string, twine, etc.)
  • Removable putty (sticky tack)
  • Random wooden blocks
  • Random wooden sticks
  • Anything else you like to build with (Legos, TinkerToys, etc.)

You probably have all of these things around the house, so it should be essentially free to put together. But if you do have to buy them all (such as putting together multiple kits for a school classroom), it should cost less that $15.

In addition to the materials, you’ll also want to have some scissors and basic hand tools handy to cut things, bend paper clips, poke holes in cardboard, etc..

Step 2: Make the Kit

Simply putting all the materials into a box is a good start. But an important aspect of any construction kit is making it exciting (especially for kids!).

You’ll be surprised at how a few pieces of tape and some careful writing can transform a boring old shoe box into something exciting and playful. It also serves as a helpful reminder that all the materials should be taken care of and put away when each project comes to an end.

So take a few minutes and decorate the box. Make it clear that this isn’t just a random box of bits and pieces; it’s a toolkit of creative possibilities!

Step 3: Learn About the Touchscreen

There are endless possibilities for what you can make and how you can make it, but one important concept to keep in mind is how capacitive touchscreens actually work.

Essentially, within the glass on the touchscreen there are hundreds of transparent wires. These wires can sense when things are close, but only if they're able to store tiny amounts of electrical charge (like your finger!). In electronics, we call things that can store charge “capacitors.”

But the capacitive touchscreen doesn’t actually care what is touching it. That means that you can trick the touchscreen into thinking you’re touching it by using a piece of metal (such as aluminum foil) to touch the screen, while you’re touching the other side of it. Go ahead and try it (make sure that the part of the foil touching the screen is about the size of your fingertip).

Materials like wood, rubber, and paper are all poor capacitors by themselves (they don’t store charge well) and they are also poor conductors (electricity won't easily pass through them), so the touchscreen will ignore them. Together, you can use combinations of materials to either help the touchscreen see or ignore what’s touching it.

For a more detailed, technical explanation about touchscreens (not important, but interesting if you’re curious), see howstuffworks (http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/iphone2.htm).

Helpful Apps for Testing

To test out your new inventions, you’ll probably want a few simple free apps to draw, play, and explore.

Of course, you can use any app you like. But for testing, the basic apps above are great because they have large screen areas simple interaction.

Step 4: Start Inventing!

Here are a few ideas to help you get started. Feel free to play around as you go -- you may stumble upon something new and invent something else entirely different!

Project Ideas

  • Wooden knob (just let your fingers touch; a quick DIY version of this fancy knob)
  • Foil pencil stylus (foil + pencil = stylus)
  • Touchscreen ruler (just use a straight piece of wood as a guide)
  • Drawing compass (let the ruler pivot at the end to draw smooth arcs)
  • Sticky tack guide bumps (add some bumps to the screen so you can find buttons without looking)
  • Clothespin piano (watch the video)

Start out simple by wrapping some foil around a pencil and learning what works best. Then once you get the hang of it, try different materials and configurations.

Can you create something with two (or event three) contact points to zoom or scroll on the screen?

Can you make a wooden slider? How about a joystick?

Can you make something with levers, hinges, or other simple machines?

Have fun inventing -- the possibilities are endless!

About This Instructable

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Bio: Background in Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Robotics, and Tangible Interfaces from MIT. Currently working at Fiddlewax to create new musical instruments. Other projects I've ... More »
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