Collage by Maggie Thrash.

In this edition of Tech Trek, Amber delves into a series of videos about questionably useful robots, and Maggie reviews a gadget that turns everyday objects into computer touch pads.

Videos of the Month: Simone Giertz on YouTube

Machines are supposed to improve our lives, right? Even when they end up having unfortunate and unforeseen moral, philosophical, or physical side effects, the whole point of technological development is progress. But what if that wasn’t the goal? What if someone invented really useless machines…on purpose? That’s exactly what Simone Giertz does on her hilarious YouTube channel. The self-proclaimed “queen of shitty robots” creates machines that are beautifully inefficient. Take her breakfast machine, for example. It flings cereal into a bowl, pours milk all over the table, and then “feeds” her:

Or her lipstick robot that aggressively smears a lovely shade of red all over her mouth:

The Swedish inventor studied physics in college but taught herself robotics. Although her creations may be on the crappy end of the robot spectrum, they’re actually pretty incredible when you think about it. I certainly can’t create a robot that slaps me awake every morning or washes my hair. And while neither of those machines accomplishes its task in the smoothest fashion, there’s no way someone who wasn’t incredibly intelligent, creative, and resourceful could have made them. Giertz is an inspiration, as far as I’m concerned, and deserves several rounds of applause from her creepy applause machine.

You can watch Giertz’s videos for the laughs—they’re definitely entertaining and funny and it’s fine to just leave it at that. You can also watch them to learn a little about robotics. Giertz often vlogs her build process. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll start to appreciate these robots for what they say about humanity. Yes, humanity! Giertz’s work seems to walk this line between celebrating robotics and challenging the idea of robot-driven progress. Just look at most sci-fi movies or TV, and you’ll see a future where people have become overly dependent on machines, usually to the detriment of society. Giertz’s robots make a good case for doing stuff the old-fashioned way, and that uselessness is what makes her inventions revolutionary. —Amber

Gadget Review: Makey Makey Go

Things you can do with a banana:

  • Get your daily dose of potassium
  • Practice using a condom
  • Create a custom computer touch pad!!!!!

I was being a total scavenger at the Radio Shack out-of-business sale when I found Makey Makey Go, a cool little device that uses the electricity of human touch to turn ordinary objects into computer touch pads. With a program called Scratch, developed by MIT to teach coding to children, plus Makey Makey Go, I transformed a banana into a multi-use gadget.

First, I plugged Makey Makey Go into my computer’s USB port. The kit comes with an alligator clip: I connected one end to the Makey Makey and the other end to a banana, but you can use almost any object—a plant, a box, whatever. I pressed the play button on the Makey Makey Go to activate the object as a touch pad…

…THEN I TOUCHED THE BANANA. By default, the Makey Makey Go is mapped to act like a standard mouse click, so now banana = mouse! You can also remap your Makey Makey Go to work like any key or mouse click you want by following the instructions on their site. If you press the device’s gear button, for example, the connected object will send a spacebar signal to your computer. I used the previously mentioned Scratch to make a super simple app where the code basically read, “If the spacebar/banana is pressed, play this sound”:

Makey Makey Go is very simple and intuitive to operate, and works right out of the box just by plugging it in. Coding is much more fun with it because it makes the experience of testing apps tactile. Makey Makey’s developers also emphasize that it can be used to prototype inventions or to create interactive installations. So grab a banana and a Makey Makey Go and invent something! —Maggie ♦