Drum On A Chip–Not That Kind Of Chip

Comedian Mitch Hedberg had a theory about Pringles potato chips. His theory is the company formed to make tennis balls. But instead of a truckload of rubber, someone accidentally sent them potatoes, so they made the best of it. Certainly the Pringles can is an iconic brand all by itself. The cans also have a lot of hacker history, since they are commonly used for WiFi cantennas (even though it might not be the best choice of cans). People also use them to build pinhole cameras, macro lenses, and a variety of cannon-like devices.

[Ian H] uses the short Pringles cans to build a drum kit. Clearly, the little cans aren’t going to make very much sound on their own, but with a piezo speaker element used in reverse, the cans become touch sensors that feed an Arduino and drive a MIDI device. You can see a video of the result, below.

Piezo elements, like a lot of transducers, are reversible. That is, electricity makes them move, but motion makes them create electricity. This is why speakers can act as microphones, motors can act as generators, and thermocouples can work as thermoelectric heat pumps. Sometimes, devices are optimized for one use or another (for example, thermocouples make very poor heat pumps). In this case, though, the piezo transducers work very well to detect thumps on the Pringle lids.

Maybe you can drive the output to some matching Pringle can speakers. If you are too busy servicing your cat to play the drums, Pringles can help with that, too.

5 thoughts on “Drum On A Chip–Not That Kind Of Chip

  1. I did something like this forty years ago. I used a Planter’s peanut can, which if course has a plastic lid. I glued a 2 inch speaker to the inside of the lid. I was playing with electronic music at the time, I used it to trigger something.

    But yes, piezo elements are a better choice, are much more available now than circa 1976.

    I remember trying to use conductive foam, the black kind that decades later crumbles, in some sort of pressure sensitive transducer, but what I recall is that it didn’t give good results.


  2. The father of one of my school classmates (7th – 12th grade at a very small school) invented the pringles can and associated manufacturing equipment. He worked for a small engineering firm in Missouri (Ironton, Arcadia Valley area). I later met my classmate’s cousin in a drafting class in college (yes, pencils and french curves). She talked about how she remembered closets full of prototype cans when they were developing them. This type of engineering is just a lot of educated hacking. lol.

    Ronald Cook passed away a number of years ago; but I think of him every time I see a pringles can.

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