Making a Player Piano Talk MIDI

[Ramon] was always fascinated with pianos, and when he came across a few player piano rolls in an antique shop, a small kernel of a project idea was formed. He wondered if anyone had ever tried to convert a player piano into a full MIDI instrument, with a computer tickling the ivories with a few commands. This led to one of the best builds we’ve ever seen: a player piano connected to a computer.

[Ramon] found an old piano in Craigslist for a few hundred dollars, and once it made its way into the workshop the teardown began. Player pianos work via a vacuum, where air is sucked through a few pin points in a piano roll with a bellows. A series of pipes leading to each key translate these small holes into notes. Replicating this system for a MIDI device would be impossible, but there are a few companies that make electronic adapters for player pianos. All [Ramon] would have to do is replicate that.

The lead pipes were torn out and replaced with 88 separate solenoid valves. These valves are controlled via a shift register, and the shift registers controlled by an ATMega. There’s an astonishing amount of electronic and mechanical work invested in this build, and the finished product shows that.

As if turning an ancient player piano into something that can understand and play MIDI music wasn’t enough, [Ramon] decided to add a few visuals to the mix. He found a display with a ratio of 16:4.5 – yes, half as tall as 16:9 – and turned the front of the piano into a giant display. The ten different styles of visualization were whipped up in Processing.


The piano has so far been shown at an interactive art exhibit in Oakland, and hopefully it’ll make it to one of the Maker Faires next year. There are also plans to have this piano output MIDI with a key scanner underneath all the keys. Very impressive work.

Video below.

Continue reading “Making a Player Piano Talk MIDI”

Digital Pinball With Force Feedback

pinball Hang around Hackaday long enough and you’ll hear about MAME, and all the other ways to emulate vintage arcade machines on a computer. The builds are usually fantastic, with real arcade buttons, MDF cabinets, and side graphics with just the right retro flair to make any connoisseur of ancient video games happy. MAME is only emulating old video games, though, and not physical systems like the digital pinball system [ronnied] put up on the Projects site.

[ronnied] was inspired by a real life, full-size White Water pinball machine at his previous job, and decided it was high time for him to acquire – somehow – a pinball machine of his own. He had a spare computer sitting around, an old 16:9 monitor for the main playfield, and was donated a smaller 4:3 monitor for the backglass. With an MDF cabinet, PinMAME, and a little bit of work, [ronnied] had his own machine capable of recreating hundreds of classic machines.

The build didn’t stop at just a few arcade buttons and a screen; [ronnied] added a 3-axis accelerometer for a tilt mechanism, solenoids and a plunger torn from a real pinball machine for a more realistic interface, and a Williams knocker for a very loud bit of haptic feedback. We’ve seen solenoids, buzzers, and knockers in pinball emulators before, and the vibrations and buzzing that comes with these electromechanical add ons make all the difference; without them, it’s pretty much the same as playing a pinball emulator on a computer. With them, it’s pretty easy to convince yourself you’re playing a real machine.

Videos of the mechanisms below.

Continue reading “Digital Pinball With Force Feedback”

Automated Drink Mixer Is the Life of the Party

Hosting a New Year’s Eve party, but don’t want to be stuck behind the bar all night? You could set out a bowl or two of spiked punch, but where’s the hack? Free yourself from drink slinging duties with the Automated Drink Mixer created by Cornell University students [Justin] and [Austin]. Their design uses a 14″ diameter lazy Susan powered by a 12V bi-directional motor attached to a 2″ rubber wheel. The motor is capable of 70RPM, so the glass ultimately rides around at 10RPM. Orders are entered on a push-button menu. As this is a school project that should adhere to IEEE standards, all libations are non-alcoholic.

The software uses an overarching state machine, so the system polls for input from the menu at idle. When it receives an order, the lazy Susan rotates the glass to the right spout or series of spouts and then returns it to the starting point. [Justin] and [Austin] controlled the position of the glass with an IR emitter and phototransistor. This pair detects the black strips of tape around the edge which are spaced 60° apart. A comparator digitizes the signal and triggers an interrupt in the software, which counts the number of 60° slices. A full demonstration is waiting for you after the jump. Before you jump: drink responsibly, kids. If you aren’t up to that particular challenge, make yourself an alcohol-aware LED ice cube. If you need more LEDs in your life, whip up the Inebriator.

Continue reading “Automated Drink Mixer Is the Life of the Party”

Hacking a flip dot display

While casually lurking on a famous auction website, [TeddyDesTodes] found the gem shown in the above picture and reverse engineered it. This is a flip dot display, the Brose Vollmatrix compact to be precise. It consists of a grid of small metal discs that are black on one side and yellow on the other, set into a black background. With power applied, the disc flips to show the other side. The disc is attached to an axle which also carries a small permanent magnet. Positioned close to the magnet is a solenoid. By pulsing the solenoid coil with the appropriate electrical polarity, the magnet will align itself with the magnetic field, also turning the disc.

After carrying the 25kg display from his post office to home, [TeddyDesTodes] opened it and discovered that the main control board was using two RS422 transceivers. So he fired up his bus pirate, started to sniff the traffic and noticed that several commands were repeatedly sent. [TeddyDesTodes] stopped the transmission, sent these particular commands and had the good surprise to see some dots flipped. From there, displaying something was a piece of cake.

If this is familiar to you it may be because it was shared in one of the Trinket Contest Updates. But the background details were just so much fun we think this deserves a full feature of it’s own. Do you agree?

Arduino-Controlled Single-Leaf Shutter

Single-Leaf Shutter

[Kevin] has made an interesting camera shutter mechanism using an Arduino and a solenoid. To keep it extremely simple, he is only controlling a single leaf. In the linked video, you can see him take it through its paces from 1/125 seconds up to infinite. This is, of course, a proof of concept, and [Kevin] mentions using smaller components to make everything fit easily inside a Holga-like body. As he points out in the video’s comments, digitally controlling the flash would be a simple matter as well.

A basic camera is incredibly simple to make, and [Kevin’s] design certainly isn’t complicated. That said, if you look at the big picture, [Kevin] is demonstrating how feasible it could be to build an entirely custom camera with a standard microcontroller as the brain. We can’t help but think of all of the possibilities when you are able to control the entire photo taking process.

Interestingly, [Kevin] is also behind this twin lens reflex Kickstarter project from earlier in the year. It will be interesting to see what other camera-related hacks we will see from him.

Graffiti briefcase for stealth tagging

We’re floored by painter and engineer [Bob Partington’s] graffiti briefcase, which proves how well art and tech can complement one another. Fear not, Arduino haters, [Bob]’s case is an analog dream: no microcontrollers here.

The guts consist of 2 components: a linear drive system and a trigger assembly. The former takes advantage of a small RC motor with a chain drive which slides the can’s mounting unit along two stainless steel rods. The latter includes a custom wound solenoid plugged into a 24V cordless drill battery, which slams down 5 pounds of force onto the can’s nozzle to fire the paint.

This all fits into an otherwise inconspicuous looking briefcase to provide some urban camouflage. The final component is a stencil, which slides into a rectangular hole on the bottom of the case. The paint can sprays downward through the stencil and tags the ground at the touch of a brass button located near the handle.  [Bob] has plenty of other cool inventions you should check out that are less illegal. Or, stick it to the man by automating your tagging with Time Writer.

Continue reading “Graffiti briefcase for stealth tagging”

[Update] Vladimir’s Robot Guitar


[Vladimir Demin] is somewhat of a legend for us; in his spare time he’s been mastering the automation of musical instruments. This time he’s back with upgrades to his build and four new videos. [Vladimir’s] top priority was to rework the strumming mechanism that earlier ran on solenoids. He’s improved the sound quality and reduced the clicks by swapped to stepper motors and overhauling the software.

Compared to his earlier setup, this one sounds more soulful and less automated, but [Vladimir] admits that it’s still not good enough and that he’s working on a new, brilliant implementation. Until then, take a few minutes and check out the rest of the videos below, then join us in scratching our heads in amazement: everything is built with simple hand tools.

[Vladimir] has come a long way, and it started with this Bayan (button accordion). Last year’s guitar build is also worth a look, as well as an in-depth interview.

Continue reading “[Update] Vladimir’s Robot Guitar”