Project Monday: Musical Gears

Dave Hrynkiw
June 10, 2013

Sometimes we get the opportunity to help out select people who are developing projects for a good cause. One of those things dear to our hearts is inspiring children with science and electronics. So when John Porter came to us looking for a hand to make a musical gear project as part of an exhibit at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, we threw him some of our support. John attends Carnegie Mellon University in the Masters of Science program, and was working with fellow classmates Daniel Pfaff and Arden Rosenblatt to make a project described as "the ‘Musical Gear’. A single powered gear would exist at the center of a table. Children would be able to place Musical Gears on the table and mate them to the powered gear. Sensors on the edge of the Musical Gear would be triggered by coming into contact with the other gears. This would cause the gear to produce a musical tone on an internal speaker. By building up a chain of gears, the child would be able to create a variety of musical beats while learning about motion transfer through gears."

They chose the Ardweeny as an ideal brain for the project - it proved to be compact and powerful enough to handle the behaviors they were after. "Once the brain of the Musical Gear was selected, the rest of the design quickly fell into place. It would be powered by a 9V battery through a linear voltage regulator. It would include the circuitry for a soft latch power switch so that it could turn itself off. A small audio amplifier was designed to boost the signal from the Ardweeny. We also selected a short range optical switch as the primary sensor on the gear, meaning there were no moving parts that could be broken."

"Exhibit deployment was a great success. The gears were robust enough that not even the hordes of children were able to destroy them. Unfortunately, however, the musical beats that we had envisioned did not come to fruition. Instead, it was three days of chaotic, incessant beeping. The kids really seemed to enjoy it, though, even if we weren’t creating the next Mozart. And while we enjoyed our exhibit as well, we were certainly glad to pull the batteries out at the end. Maybe the world isn’t quite ready for the Musical Gear yet."

John was kind enough to shoot and send some video our way which shows off what the gears looked like in motion as the kids played with them. I have to admit... I kind of really want to try it out myself.

If you'd like to know a bit more (and see a few more images), you can download a PDF right here that describes how the project was conceived and implemented. It's well worth the read, and looks like one of the more unique ways we've seen the Ardweeny put to use.

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