Introduction: Makey Controller Shell (with or Without Nuts!)

About: NBCT Teacher, Maker, Grower, Gamer - School Librarian and Coordinator for "Make It...Awesome!" GMS Makerspace and Gardenspace, Seaperch Coach, Girls Who Code Mentor

When I ask my students what they want most from a Makey Makey accessory, a common answer is a video game controller. One of the most exciting ways to integrate the Makey Makey, a USB connected multi-ported Invention Tool, is to play games made in Scratch or other platforms using a controller. By using a 3D printed design and conductive material, we set out to make a useful and slightly weird controller.


3D printer, files for controller:


Makey Makey

Conductive material: copper tape, masking tape, jumper wire, LEDs, Playdough, nuts (1/4'' and 5/16'') and lots more to consider!

Step 1: Iterations: We're Getting Somewhere, I Think!

After many tries, we started to get a game controller that seems to fit our users. The first design feature was an embedded path in the layout of a classic video game controller. This path will fit conductive tape or playdough and also has a thin edge along the outside of the shell so that alligator clips can be attached. This design started off as a rectangle, but quickly moved in a more ergonomic direction. The most recent design has places for six buttons and the ground. The second key feature of the design is a shelf built into the bottom of the board to hold the Makey Makey in place, while still leaving room for wiring. Print one from the link included. Be sure to add scaffolding to your print to support the bracket and keep the top smooth.

Step 2: Adding Playdough

To keep this project relatively easy and student friendly, connect the Makey Makey with alligator clips on the edges, slide the controller into place behind the 3D printed board and connect your wires. The four spots on the left side were designed for the directional arrows, then add two buttons on the right side to mirror the Makey Makey's left click and space bar. The final buttons on the bottom left and right were meant for the ground. By keeping the base of a player's thumbs on those pads, she will make all the other buttons work when pressed. (On later designs, we realized that we only needed one ground, so the space on the left is gone and we even added another ground underneath!) Once everything is connected, add enough Playdough to make a path from the alligator clip to the button, making a satisfying squishy button for each path. Be sure not to add too much Playdough; you have to keep your buttons separated.

Step 3: Adding Copper Tape

Adding copper tape is an option to make a conductive path from the buttons on your controller to the alligator clips. Cut pieces to fit the spaces, leaving room to wrap the outer edge of the controller (see picture). This allows you to have a path from your alligator clip to whatever material you plan to use as your "button". Ideas might include anything metal like...

Step 4: Adding Nuts!

It gets a little wacky around here, so it wasn't surprising that someone suggested that we try nuts as the conductive button. We had the idea that to fit them tightly into place, we would design the holes in the 3D board slight smaller and then melt them into place. This is done by placing a heated soldering iron tip on the nut, allowing it to heat up and then pressing it into the slightly melting 3D material. After looking at the result, we went and reinforced the nuts with a bit of superglue around the outside. Be sure not to get the superglue between the contacts of the copper tape and the nut. These two items need to be snuggly pressed together. The end result looks great and has an excellent weighted feel. In total you'll need 4 5/16'' nuts and 4 1/4'' nuts.

Step 5: Adding Lights!

What can we make our controller do that others can't? How about flash lights every time you press a button? Absolutely! In the later models of the design, we added two small pairs of holes toward the front of the board. Feed a pair of LEDs through the pin holes so that the negatives (shorter) pin is on the left side when the controller is in your hands. Find one long jumper wire and get ready to solder. Solder the positive and negative leads from the two wires that are closest together in the middle. (Originally, the lights were further apart and required a bit of wire to make the distance.) On the two outer pins, cut the jumper wire in half, strip the exposed wire and attach each half to the remaining pins so that the jumper connections are at the end of each lead. Tape the back up so that your connections don't come loose. Slide the Makey Makey controller in place and plug the jumper wires into the pins on the board in the center marked "Output": the left side (negative) to KEY OUT and the right side (positive) to 5V. It will light up and flash off when a button is depressed. This is a great way to know if your buttons are working!

Step 6: Get Playing!

Once you have your controller together, now it's time to play. We wanted to make something that worked just as well as a store bought controller, so build one and decide if it's up to the challenge! This project is still going through testing at our middle school, so you may see additional designs or options coming soon.

Step 7: Now With Fewer Alligators!

Actually no alligators at all! Our controller worked well with alligator clips, but we wanted a slimmer design and so we ditched the clips. We decided to use jumper wires and the back of the Makey Makey board. Find 7 jumper wires, then cut and strip one end on each of the wires. Use a piece of copper tape for each wire and attach the wire and tape to a space on the board. Cut a piece of tape three times the length of the space on the board, then fold the tape in thirds to first sandwich the wire in between two parts of the tape, leaving the final third with the sticky side on the bottom to stick to the track on the board (see pictures). Add your LEDs and jumper wires, then add nuts or other conductive material and plug your jumper wires in where ever you want on the back.

Makey Makey Contest

Second Prize in the
Makey Makey Contest