Makey Makey Marble Machine Ramps



Less than 1 hr

About: I make things and I help others to make things. Twitter: joshburker

Adding switches to your Marble Machine ramps, connected to Scratch with the Makey Makey, opens new possibilities for maker fun. Create Marble Machines that play music as the marble makes its way through the Machine, add a projected augmented reality layer and more!


Makey Makey Classic, Copper tape with conductive adhesive, 1/4” or 1/2” wide, Wooden ramps for use with the Marble Machine, Cardboard, Marble or metal bearing, Alligator clips, Computer running Scratch

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Step 1: Overview

Marble Machines

Check out these excellent instructions from The Exploratorium on making marble machines.

Game Plan

Creating a Makey Makey augmented Marble Machine is a multi-step process. First, you will construct conductive copper tape switches on the Marble Machine ramps according to several different designs. After the ramps are “wired” you connect your Marble Machine to a Makey Makey. Finally, your Marble Machine can use a musical playing Scratch project that is ready for remixing.

Time Required

Depending on the complexity of the Marble Machine, expect to spend at least an hour on this project. It is infinitely remixable, so long as the Marble Machine does not get in the way you can keep playing with it indefinitely!

Educator Tip:

These lessons were developed with the idea that teachers all over the globe and a variety of grade levels could hack the lesson plan to meet their students' needs. Therefore, these are just some of the standards the lessons are based on, and not an all-inclusive list. Many of the CCSS align by grade level, so if you teach 9th grade, you could find the stair-stepped standard for CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.6 by looking at CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.6.

Step 2:

Start with a piece of copper tape with conductive adhesive and one of the Marble Machine ramps.

Step 3:

Remove a small amount of the backing from the conductive copper tape. Fold the tape back over on itself to form a half inch tab. Stick the tape to the ramp to hold it in place, but do not affix too much tape yet.

Step 4:

Place the marble or bearing on the ramp. Note where the marble touches the ramp: there is a very small surface area where the marble is in contact. Make sure the conductive copper tape reaches this spot on the ramp.

Step 5:

Using Jie Qi’s technique, fold the copper tape back opposite the direction you want it to run, in a small triangular shape.

Step 6:

Fold the copper tape back over on itself in the direction you want it to run. Using the marble, confirm that the copper tape is in the correct position on the ramp. Affix the copper tape to the ramp.

Step 7:

With another piece of conductive copper tape, make another flap like you did the first piece. Affix this piece to the underside of the ramp.

Step 8:

Turn the wooden ramp over and affix the copper tape across the underside.

Step 9:

Apply the copper tape around the edge of the ramp and turn it back over so the grooved side is up.

Step 10:

The second piece of conductive copper tape needs to be applied as close to the first strip as possible without touching the first strip. If the strips touch you create a short circuit and the Makey Makey will interpret that the key is held down.

Step 11:

Wider tape can be used to build similar strips. Additionally, through clever folding of the copper tape, pads of conductive copper tape can be built to make large switches.

Step 12:

Continue to build as many “wired” ramps as you want for your Marble Machine. Four ramps allow you to map to the Arrow keys on the Makey Makey.

The second part of the Makey Makey augmented Marble machine is to use these “wired” ramps in your construction.

Step 13:

Keep in mind an important engineering concept: the wired ramps should be at points in the Marble Machine where the marble is not traveling too fast. If the marble travels across the wired ramps too fast, or if the marble wobbles too much as it travels on the ramp, the Makey Makey will be unable to detect the key press.

Step 14:

If you find the marble is wobbling too much as it travels across the ramp, try building cardboard “Jersey barriers” to channel the marble down the middle of the ramp. If you have more exotic materials on hand, like some clear plastic tubing, try using it, too.

Step 15:

If you find the marble is traveling too fast as it travels down the wired ramp, you could try adding a cardboard “finger” that slows it down as it enters the switch on the ramp.

The third step in the Makey Makey augmented Marble Machine is to add conductive material to your marble.

Step 16:

When you finish constructing the Marble Machine and your marble is able to travel the route, add conductive copper tape to your marble. Smooth out the copper tape so the marble rolls smoothly. If you are using a metal bearing, you can skip this step.

Finally, you connect the Makey Makey to the wired ramps. Connect the Makey Makey to a computer running Scratch. Program sounds and other effects that are triggered when the conductive marble rolls over the wired ramps.

Step 17:

Connect the Makey Makey to the Marble Machine by clipping the alligator clips to the tabs of conductive copper tape you constructed on the wired ramps. One alligator clip should connect to Earth on the Makey Makey, while the other should connect to one of the keys on the Makey Makey. If you need additional length to reach the Makey Makey, peel a little of the backing from the copper tape with conductive adhesive, stick the tape to one of the pads and stretch the tape to the Makey Makey. You can stick the conductive copper tape right to the metal key and Earth pads on the Makey Makey.

Step 18:

Program Scratch to react to key presses. When the conductive marble or bearing rolls over the wired ramps and bridges the two strips of copper tape, the circuit will be closed and the Makey Makey will register a key press. Here is an example Scratch project for you to remix.

Scratch link

Click here to remix the project in Scratch

Step 19: Extensions (Optional)

  • “Wire” more ramps. Using the jumper on the back of the Makey Makey provides access to more keys: w, a, s, d, f, and g!
  • Make Scratch do more than play notes or sounds when the marble rolls over the wired ramps. Create animation in Scratch that is triggered when a key is pressed. Aim a projector at the Marble Machine. Your Marble Machine will have an augmented reality layer that is triggered by the conductive marble rolling down the wired ramps.
  • Use the Marble Machine and Scratch to retell a story from one of your favorite books. By adding sound and images to the marble’s journey through the Marble Machine you could re-create a journey from literature.



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