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Homemade Robotic Xylophone Plays Holiday Melodies

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the percussion-from-a-distance dept.

Hardware Hacking 70

compumike writes "Just in time to add a bit of geeky holiday cheer to your office, this video demonstrates how to build a robotic xylophone featuring handmade solenoids and aluminum bars, and shows it playing several classic holiday tunes. New songs can be programmed in with C macros, and this project could even be extended to perhaps play a melody when a new e-mail arrived or a software build has finished compiling!"

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What a bunch of nerds. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34458146)

I can't believe the actually designed their own xylophone. They could have just bought one.

Re:What a bunch of nerds. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34458164)

Indeed, the project is the "robot that can play a xylophone" part, not the xylophone itself. The same goes for the solenoids.

Anyone care to test their demo to tell them how much each note is untuned?

Re:What a bunch of nerds. (2)

DeathToBill (601486) | more than 3 years ago | (#34458222)

New songs can be programmed in with C macros

I think this tells you everything you need to know about the people involved.

Re:What a bunch of nerds. (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 3 years ago | (#34458938)

True geeks would have used a much less suited and much more obscure language.

Re:What a bunch of nerds. (1)

guruevi (827432) | more than 3 years ago | (#34459430)

Python?

Re:What a bunch of nerds. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34459468)

Python?

I think Perl is a much better choice for programming music.

Re:What a bunch of nerds. (1)

Johnberg (1642323) | more than 3 years ago | (#34459560)

MIDI? Oh, right. A geek/nerd wouldn't use a standard that has existed for 20+ years just to play jingle bells.

Re:What a bunch of nerds. (1)

_Shad0w_ (127912) | more than 3 years ago | (#34459696)

My thought was "I want to combine this with a MIDI interface now".

Re:What a bunch of nerds. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34460436)


New songs can be programmed in with C macros

I think this tells you everything you need to know about the people involved.

That's not the programming language - it's the key. It's supposed to read "Serenade in C Macro"

Re:What a bunch of nerds. (2)

An ominous Cow art (320322) | more than 3 years ago | (#34465658)

New songs can be programmed in with C macros

I guess a C# joke would have fallen flat here.

Re:What a bunch of nerds. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34458412)

Yeah! They could have bought all the other parts too! In fact, they could have not bought or built anything and just fucking googled jingle bells on youtube, stupid fuckers!

Now... (1)

MrQuacker (1938262) | more than 3 years ago | (#34458154)

Now we just need a printer than can play Fur Elise.

Re:Now... (4, Funny)

MrQuacker (1938262) | more than 3 years ago | (#34458172)

Found it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHcV8vZ96OM [youtube.com]

Wasn't this on /. a few years ago?

Re:Now... (0)

DarkKnightRadick (268025) | more than 3 years ago | (#34458590)

Technically not a printer, but yeah...that's just nerdy. lol

Re:Now... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34458764)

no

Re:Now... (1)

mswhippingboy (754599) | more than 3 years ago | (#34460132)

Nothing new here. I remember way back (late 70's) when when we had the old IBM 1403 printer playing tunes.

http://beemp3.com/download.php?file=8038028&song=1403+First+Noel [beemp3.com]

Re:Now... (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 3 years ago | (#34461506)

The highlight of the 1976 or so Michigan State University Computer Science "Engineering Day" display was a large Calcomp plotter playing show tunes. This was a huge monster plotter, but it did a great Liza Minnelli.

To date another technology, a different display showed a very early version of the Votrax voice encoder from Federal Screw Works, and how the students had programmed it to call the local pizza place and order a pizza.

Re:Now... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34461948)

new version of that
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xMVOaGCecU

How ironic... (1)

poptones (653660) | more than 3 years ago | (#34458872)

You're making jokes, but certain printers used to do EXACTLY THAT as part of their diagnostics. I believe it was certain IBM inkjet printers, though it's been so long I don't really recall. I do know we used to get calls from baffled users saying "you're not gonna believe this" at which point we'd ask "is your printer playing fur elise?"

I hope this (1)

arndawg (1468629) | more than 3 years ago | (#34458286)

doesn't make patrick moore redundant.

Ding ding dong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34458298)

Does not compute!
*ASPLODE*

nerds are so self-satisfied (2)

FuckingNickName (1362625) | more than 3 years ago | (#34458310)

The meat of exercise could have been summarised in about 3 sentences; I did not need to watch 13 minutes of video. Congrats, you have a GCSE / high school knowledge of electronics.

Re:nerds are so self-satisfied (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34458632)

You meanie. Knowing the theory is not the same as actually building it. The problems they solved with using re-pulser magnets at the bottom of the solenoids, hollowing out the striking bars for less mass etc are interesting. They show what happens when you try to build something like this in real life, as opposed to just sitting at home thinking you know it all already.

Re:nerds are so self-satisfied (1)

nschubach (922175) | more than 3 years ago | (#34459684)

...opposed to just sitting at home thinking you know it all already.

Are you kidding? Just this morning I flew to Jupiter and back then rebuilt the engine in my car. But I didn't have to get my hands dirty or dump a lot of cash on rocket fuel.

Re:nerds are so self-satisfied (1)

realityimpaired (1668397) | more than 3 years ago | (#34461482)

Would have been much more interesting if they'd done it with a pair of robotic arms, rather than a bunch of homemade linear actuators...

Funny joke (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34458318)

ReMi Fa DoDo.

Pedantic correction (4, Informative)

residents_parking (1026556) | more than 3 years ago | (#34458322)

That's a glockenspiel. A Xylophone has wooden bars. I know because as a kid I assumed it would be the other way round.

Re:Pedantic correction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34458580)

Not quite, since "Glocke" is German for "bell". Glockenspiel is just the German word for carillion.

Re:Pedantic correction (1)

cream wobbly (1102689) | more than 3 years ago | (#34461726)

Absolutely wrong.

"Glockenspiel" is also the German word for carillon. That's in addition to it being the German word for glockenspiel. English makes the distinction; German does not.

Re:Pedantic correction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34458762)

True, but this is typically nerdy hang up in technical details while missing the big point. This has to be the most annoying thing ever made!

Re:Pedantic correction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34459554)

You're right it's not a xylophone. It's a vibraphone.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vibraphone

Re:Pedantic correction (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34459936)

You're right it's not a xylophone. It's a vibraphone.

It is absolutely NOT a vibraphone. For one, it doesn't have resonators under the bars, and two (most importantly), it doesn't have the rotating valves in those resonators that give the vibraphone its distinct vibrato effect (which is where it got its name).

Re:Pedantic correction (1)

cream wobbly (1102689) | more than 3 years ago | (#34461648)

Xylophone [etymonline.com] -- from Greek xylon "wood" + phone "a sound".

Not a xylophone (4, Informative)

diethelm (35652) | more than 3 years ago | (#34458360)

A xylophone has wooden bars. This would more correctly be called a metallophone.

With that important piece of information pointed out, you can all carry on now.

Re:Not a xylophone (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34458608)

It's as if they've never seen a musical instrument. I mean come on, even if they never played an instrument in their life, how hard is it to look off of one?

Or even use one already made? No need to re-invent the wheel...

Re:Not a xylophone (1)

clone52431 (1805862) | more than 3 years ago | (#34458968)

It could also be a marimba.

Not sure what the difference between them is, other than a metallophone has metal keys by definition and a marimba’s keys are usually wood (but unlike the xylophone, don’t necessarily have to be).

Re:Not a xylophone (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34459312)

It could also be a marimba.

Not sure what the difference between them is, other than a metallophone has metal keys by definition and a marimba's keys are usually wood (but unlike the xylophone, don't necessarily have to be).


Not entirely true. A critical component of a marimba is the resonators under the bars. Those who are referring to this as a glockenspiel, or more generally as a metallophone, are 100% correct.

-- A long-time percussionist

Re:Not a xylophone (1)

kevinmenzel (1403457) | more than 3 years ago | (#34460636)

Marimbas (like xylophones) have the bars made out of wood (or a synthetic substitute). Marimbas have a lower range than xylophones. Both xylophones and marimbas in modern western form have resonator tubes. Given the range, this is probably best called a metallophone... if it were chromatic, then maybe it could be called a glockenspiel. - also a long time percussionist, especially wanting to note that marimbas have wood bars.

Re:Not a xylophone (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34460932)

The salient different between a xylophone and a marimba, apart from range, is that marimbas have wooden bars of variable width (wider as the notes get lower).

Re:Not a xylophone (1)

_Shad0w_ (127912) | more than 3 years ago | (#34459358)

A marimba has resonator tubes suspended bellow the bars.

Re:Not a xylophone (1)

kevinmenzel (1403457) | more than 3 years ago | (#34460690)

So do most western xylophones.

Re:Not a xylophone (1)

cream wobbly (1102689) | more than 3 years ago | (#34462478)

But a marimba always does. (A marimba being a type of xylophone.)

Re:Not a xylophone (1)

Technician (215283) | more than 3 years ago | (#34459516)

With a few modifications, it could sound much nicer than a toy piano. The plungers contact the bars too long. Examining a doorbell shows the plunger should overshoot the end of the electrical stroke to strike the bar and leave it free to resonate instead of remaining in contact to dampen the sound. Addition of either a cavity or tuned tube below the bar can give it the door bell or department store tone or a vibraphone with dampers in tuned tubes.

Without either, it sounds like Schroder's piano on Peanuts.

Re:Not a xylophone (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 3 years ago | (#34460452)

You know what else is made of wood?

...

A WITCH!

Power Supply (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34458362)

During the time I worked on electronic HID ballasts, I wrote some python code allowing a string with notes to be played on the transformers of the ballast, by changing the lamp current commutation frequency accordingly through the serial debug interface of the ballast's microcontroller. This reminded me and it was really fun, and didn't cost my boss much time either.

Slashdot built a time machine (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34458410)

That must be how we get Hackaday stories this week, next week - rumours that Charles may divorce Diana....

Re:Slashdot built a time machine (-1, Offtopic)

DarkKnightRadick (268025) | more than 3 years ago | (#34458598)

that's cruel.

Related: geeks shot by annoyed coworkers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34458746)

"Their damn toys playing Christmas music all year round just drove us all crazy!"

Orchestrion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34458978)

Pat Metheny's Orchestrion takes this to a much higher sphere: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VymAn8QJNQ

Re:Orchestrion (1)

treeves (963993) | more than 3 years ago | (#34465192)

Mod up. I saw this on Metheny's website when I went there looking to see if I could stream or download samples of his newer music. I could do the former BTW.
Long-time Pat Metheny fan.

There was also a project in Australia to play a clarinet robotically. Much harder, if you ask me, than playing a percussion instrument robotically.
See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAIeTm4lO5Q [youtube.com]

Just holiday melodies? (1)

clone52431 (1805862) | more than 3 years ago | (#34458992)

They should write a few more tunes... it would easily supplant this project [slashdot.org] in geekiness.

They have until February to design the robotic slide guitar and robotic congos. Cocktails not included...

Hey, bartender! (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 3 years ago | (#34459174)

featuring handmade solenoids and aluminum bars

Nice handmade bar! I'll have two shots of transparent aluminum.

It's not a xylophone. (1)

Johnberg (1642323) | more than 3 years ago | (#34459496)

I hate when nerds don't know their stuff. Xylophones and Marimbas are made from wood. Orchestra Bells and Glockenspiels are metal. Also, striking the bar directly in the middle is what makes them sound so bad. The 'mallet' should be off center for the same reason the suspension bars are. Putting the hammers on the ends of the bars would improve the sound dramatically (theoretically).

Re:It's not a xylophone. (1)

Johnberg (1642323) | more than 3 years ago | (#34459508)

And why it is played with C macros and not a MIDI file?

wound their own? (2)

pz (113803) | more than 3 years ago | (#34459708)

I *loved* this project, even if it isn't brand-spanking new, and even if they got the xylo- / metallo- / whatever terminology not quite right. They got the physics right, even going back to original reports. Moreover, they didn't intone "4th degree differential equations" all-wide-eyed, but, instead with confidence that it's knowable and understandable. They not only machined their own bars, but wound their own solenoids on custom-machined forms! Holy western union, Batman! That's beyond nerdy: That's Thomas Edison / Alexander Graham Bell levels of intensity. Reminds me of MIT undergrads.

And, beyond all that nerdfest of wonderfulness, they managed to make a very watchable and instructive video. To all of you who are bashing this impressive effort, I say: go do better, and then come back and sling your darts and arrows.

They wound their own solenoids by hand! I can't get over that. My father, when he was working as an engineer, built a machine to wind coils because doing them by hand was so onerous. Doing it by hand, and showing how on a video, that's beyond showing off, that's showing *how*.

My hat is off to these folks: well done!

Re:wound their own? (1)

timbos (710908) | more than 3 years ago | (#34459852)

Reminds me of MIT undergrads.

Heh. They are MIT grads... From: http://www.nerdkits.com/team/ [nerdkits.com] "We started NerdKits as MIT students "

Re:wound their own? (1)

clone52431 (1805862) | more than 3 years ago | (#34459950)

They wound their solenoids by hand? Isn’t that a little like writing an application in assembly language? on a CPU you built from relays and piano wire?

Re:wound their own? (1)

pz (113803) | more than 3 years ago | (#34461010)

They wound their solenoids by hand? Isn’t that a little like writing an application in assembly language? on a CPU you built from relays and piano wire?

Yes, *exactly*. Now that I've been told they are in fact MIT graduates, it makes sense. The MIT EECS curriculum (which I had the tremendous fortune of being able to teach all four of the core courses) emphasizes precisely that: build your own from scratch so that you understand every single aspect. In the Intro to Digital Design course (6.004) students, do, in fact, build CPUs from relays and piano wire, as it were. Then they code in machine language for a while, followed by writing an assembler so they can use assembly language.

Re:wound their own? (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 3 years ago | (#34461562)

In the Intro to Digital Design course (6.004) students, do, in fact, build CPUs from relays and piano wire, as it were.

Pure luxury. In my college, we had to produce our own coke to smelt the copper ore to produce the wire and bits to make relays by hand, and THEN we got to program them in BINARY -- we didn't have a "machine language" until senior year.

Unless these MIT folks are extruding their own wire, I'm not impressed.

Next step (1)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 3 years ago | (#34459764)

The next step would be to add a simple MIDI interface - an optocoupler and a UART that runs 31,250 baud would work, IIRC. I build one in college (back in the early 80's). That baud rate is 1/64th of 2MHz, which was prescaled down by the Z-80 DART chip I used.

doing it the hard way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34460018)

back in the day we just wrote the code to cause the correct radio interference pattern for each note so you didn't have to build a xylophone or solenoids or anything. Just put a simple little AM radio on top of the computer and, voila, music.

A primitive electric pianola. (1)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 3 years ago | (#34460172)

These guys have invented the electric pianola. Brilliant! But wait, this one is robotic!

Re:A primitive electric pianola. (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#34460646)

That beautiful music you hear, is the sound of Skynet coming to get you. Unfortunately, music makes it hard to sneak up on a person, so I'm guessing it'll go for the deaf first.

This guy has an entire robot band! (1)

maomoa (1040372) | more than 3 years ago | (#34460516)

Just one instrument? "J-Bot" has and entire band with horns, guitars, and drums all controlled by robots. http://www.capturedbyrobots.com/ [capturedbyrobots.com]

Nothing to see here... already done (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34460772)

Pat Metheny Orchestration Project. Been there and he owns the tee-shirt.

Hardly "home made" (1)

mlwmohawk (801821) | more than 3 years ago | (#34461094)

While I am a hobbyist in my own right, the tool set sophistication of this project is a bit high. Home cut and tuned aluminum bars? Give me a break, it would be less time consuming, easier and cheaper to run to "toys are us" and BUY a cheap xylophone. Seriously, lathe cut solenoid cases? OMG, who has a lathe? I would have gone to a hardware store, or sowing store to buy some plastic spools. Again, cheaper, easier, and less time consuming. MOSFETs are cool, but for the current and time constrains, a simple 2n2222 would work fine. Lastly LED's as a clamp diode? OMG! LEDs are slow, you'll eventually cook the mosfet regardless.

Re:Hardly "home made" (1)

mlwmohawk (801821) | more than 3 years ago | (#34461202)

Hohner Kids Glockenspiel, $19.99 on the web. Not having to find, cut, tune, and mount 8 aluminum bars, priceless.

Pat Metheny (1)

bigmo (181402) | more than 3 years ago | (#34461652)

Pat Metheny is touring now with a "robot band" on his Orchestrion tour. There are a couple videos on the web and a fairly good writeup on Wired: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2010-02/01/robot-band-backs-pat-metheny-on-orchestrion-tour

Pat's website has more info about his reasons for this approach: http://www.patmetheny.com/orchestrioninfo/

Not much tech weenie info, but pretty interesting for the musically minded.

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