Young makers make Makey robots

Young makers make Makey robots

Months ago, MAKE engineering intern Kris Magri designed and built Makey the Robot, one of our major projects that appeared in MAKE Volume 19. I remember the love and passion with which she crafted the little guy, getting him ready to present to the MAKE community. You never know what impact the things you create may have or how far the effects will ripple. Needless to say, she was thrilled when she was contacted by MAKE reader Joe Mayer, explaining how he was leading a group of 4 boys, ages 7 to 10, with the assistance of their parents, in building Makeys of their own. First let’s introduce these fine young makers.


Pictured above is Tommy Acuna, age 7, who has an impressive time machine he built in his backyard. Below are brothers Joey Prather, age 10, and Nicko Prather, age 7. Joey is teaching himself Flash programming, and Nicko is an accomplished builder of original Lego creations. And pictured below them is Luke Hoffman, age 7, who has wanted to build his own robot for years.


I asked Joe Mayer to offer some background on how the group came to be and this is what he said:

“I had been searching for a way to have the kids at our local elementary school get involved in robotics, inventing, or just making something with their own two hands. Many times when this was discussed with other parents, Jr. FIRST Lego League, and FIRST Lego League robots were brought up. The Lego idea did not progress forward, as I could see a way that the opportunity to participate would be equal to all. The Lego league age groupings would split up my kids, and I could commit to only one more endeavor. That coupled with the fact that for all the time and expense involved, only one robot is built.

“I have long had a interest in learning some electronics. I have a career as a scientific instrument designer/builder, and have long seen that joining mechanical and electronic design has many advantages. I just needed a way to push myself into it. Makey has been that way! Makey is a difficult first robot project, but the learning of basic electronics, then applying that new knowledge to Makey makes it seem almost magical. The other parents have certainly pushed themselves out of their comfort zones as well. Learning to solder at a time in life when the old eyes are not quite what they used to be, can be humbling. It is great for kids to see their parents strive toward a goal.

“Then, the same day after having once again told a parent of my concerns, I was at the local bookstore and chanced upon MAKE magazine Volume 19 with Makey right there on the cover. Yes, there was an answer: we would gather some like kids and their parents and build copies of Makey. If this was successful, we would try to get Makey into a school setting.

“1) First, I made an estimate of the cost of building Makey.
2) Next, I made a mental list of which kids had been asking me to build a robot for them; Tommy and Luke came to mind.
3) Showed the Makey article to some parents.
4) Talked with John Banks, a friend and neighbor about helping with the programing part of the build (having support in various disciplines is very helpful).
5) Sent the letter below to possible participants:”

Hi [Parents’ Names]

I have been gathering information in order to form a group composed of kids
and parents to build small autonomous robots. [Child’s Name], of course, came to mind. Learning while enjoying the company of fellow builders would be the measure of our success.

This is my thinking so far:

1. Each kid would end up with their own robot.
2. Kids would help the 3 to 4 other kids in building their robot as well.
3. Parent(s) would need to be present to help/guide the construction.
4. Support on many levels is likely to be key, as the construction is estimated at 2-3 weekends for an adult.
5. Kids will need fuel for building, so perhaps a potluck of simple (easy) food.
6. Cost of parts is estimated at $150 per robot. I would like to order them soon.
7. Location of “building” could vary between houses depending on what items are being built/assembled.
8. Sundays, for a few hours, has been put forth as the possible time.

Please let me know if this seems like something [Child’s Name] could be part of.
Questions, feel free to ask away.

Joe Mayer

“6) Ordered parts for 6 robots.
7) Parts in. Made CAD drawings by scaling the actual parts and pulling measurements off Kris’ drawings.
8) Made 6 copies of sheet metal “base.” John Banks starts playing with Arduino boards.
9) Final membership of group is set.
10) First meeting. We talked to kids about what looked to be involved, what Makey would be able to do as built and initially programed. Talked with them about what might be possible with other sensors and programming. We then asked what they would like Makey to be able to do. Nicko said he wanted his robot to be able to play “tag” with the other robots (we are still looking into just how to do that).

“I chose Nicko’s robot to be the lead build, so it would act as a sample for the others to copy. Nicko and I would try to work about a week ahead of the other builders. John Banks did this as well with the programing side of things. Many ideas as to what we could do next seem to constantly emerge. Presently we are close to a test of a combined
color-sensing and line-following addition to add to Makey.”

As for the progress so far, Mayer reports:

“One robot, Nicko’s, is complete. The others are in various stages. Tommy’s and Luke’s are very close to a successful run under battery power. Joey has been a great helper to all, and he has been quite interested in the programing side of things. His robot shows the least progress, but he has learned a lot. He is becoming proficient at soldering. His robot will be running soon.”

Needless to say, this story is truly inspirational. There is much value in seeing how this group came together and what they’ve accomplished so far. I suspect all 4 of the boys will always remember making Makey, and the knowledge they’ve gained will stay with them for years to come. Good work, makers!

3 thoughts on “Young makers make Makey robots

  1. John Park says:

    This is so awesome, I loved reading about it. Thanks for sharing and congratulations!

  2. BusinessBot says:

    5 years later heading to high school, and programming is still my cup off tea :), Joey from article

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at or via @snowgoli.

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