Technology TED Talks

21 everyday objects you can hack, from a bacon sandwich to a pencil to your cat

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Jay Silver demonstrates how a cat’s water bowl can be rigged to take photos. Photo: Ryan Lash

MaKey MaKey — the kit that encourages you to rig a banana piano or control a video game with pencil-etchings — was one of the most successful projects on Kickstarter in 2012. The project raised 2, 272% of its goal in 30 days, bringing in a cool half million from excited makers.

Jay Silver: Hack a banana, make a keyboard! Jay Silver: Hack a banana, make a keyboard! Today’s TED Talk comes from the co-creator of the MaKey MaKey, Jay Silver. In this madcap romp, he reveals his first invention — a pasta spinner rigged from a fork and drill — and how it led him to a fascination with the way that things are made. Throughout the talk, given during our in-office salon TED@250, he shows some incredible projects, both his own and those of others, like a paint brush that makes anything it touches play electronic music and a cat’s water bowl that lets the feline snap photos of itself as it drinks.

“Sometimes what we know gets in the way of what could be, especially when it comes to the human-made world. We think we already know how something works, so we can’t imagine how it could work,” says Silver. “I don’t care that pencils are supposed to be used for writing. I’m going to use them a different way.”

In the talk, Silver also introduces us to the MaKey MaKey, using it in a demo at 7:50 to turn two slices of pizza into a slide clicker. But to him, of course, the fun part isn’t just his own creating his own projects – it’s releasing the kit out into the wild and seeing what people came up with on their own.

Here, a collection of really cool things made with MaKey MaKey.

First, a video from Silver’s JoyLabz, that shows you how to make a banana space bar, a Play-doh video game controller, piano stairs, a synthesizer out of friends (it plays “Eye of the Tiger”), the aforementioned banana piano and cat photo booth, plus an alphabet soup keyboard.

Christian Genco of SMU, an incredibly clever maker, plays the “Star Spangled Banner” by eating his lunch and capping it off with pie.

Here, the people at We Are Genuine turn Star Wars bobble heads into an instrument.

Garrett Heath of Rackspace Hosting creates a cloud server using the MaKey MaKey … and a bacon sandwich.

How to turn dog into a piano, from YouTube user Captain Eagle.

Here is an amazing mashup of MaKey MaKey and another notable Kickstart project, Roy the Animatronic Robot’s Hand.

Brooklyn musician j.viewz takes you to the grocery to buy the fruits and vegetables needed to play Massive Attack’s classic song, “Teardrop.”

Musical paintings from Eric Rosenbaum, who is the co-creator of this incredible kit.

J. Nathan Matias uses his guitar to control an online video game.

A next-generation banana piano, called the Bananamophone, from Beau Silver.

Bonus: DJ Nu-Mark of Jurassic 5 played his necklace onstage at Coachella this year using the MaKey MaKey. See a photo »

And a note: We in the TED office debated the number in this headline extensively. Here is our list of 21 items, in order: bananas, pencils, a drill, forks, paint brushes, a cat’s water bowl, pizza, Play-doh, stairs, your friends, alphabet soup, lunch, pie, bobble head dolls, a bacon sandwich, dogs, Roy the Animatronic Robot’s Hand, fruits and vegetables, paintings, a guitar, and a necklace.

And finally, TED’s own Alex Dean shares his MaKey MaKey project: