MIT’s Knitted Keyboard Is Quite A Flexible MIDI Controller

There are only so many ways to make noise on standard instruments such as acoustic pianos. Their rigidity and inputs just don’t allow for a super-wide range of expression. On the other hand, if you knit your interface together, the possibilities are nearly endless. MIT’s new and improved knitted keyboard is an instrument like none other — it responds to touch, pressure, and continuous proximity, meaning that you can play it like a keyboard, a theremin, and something that is somewhere in between the two. Because it’s a MIDI interface, it can ultimately sound like any instrument you’ve got available in software.

The silver keys of this five-octave interface are made of conductive yarn, and the blue background is regular polyester yarn. Underneath that is a conductive knit layer to complete the key circuits, and a piezo-resistive knit layer that responds to pressure and stretch. It runs on a Teensy 4.0 and uses five MPR121 proximity/touch controllers, one per octave.

The really exciting thing about this keyboard is its musical (and physical) versatility. As you might expect, the keyboard takes discrete inputs from keystrokes, but it also takes continuous input from hovering and waving via the proximity sensors, and goes even further by taking physical input from squeezing, pulling, stretching, and twisting the conductive yarns that make up the keys. This means it takes aftertouch (pressure applied after initial contact) into account —  something that isn’t possible with most regular instruments. And since this keyboard is mostly yarn and fabric, you can roll it up and take it anywhere, or wrap it around your neck for a varied soundscape.

If you’re looking for more detail, check out the paper for the previous version (PDF), which also used thermochromic yarn to show different colors for various modes of play using a heating element. With the new version, [Irmandy Wicaksono] and team sought to improve the sensing modalities, knitted aesthetics, and the overall tactility of the keyboard. We love both versions! Be sure to check it out after the break.

Want to play around with capacitive touch sensors without leaving the house for parts? Make your own from paper and aluminum foil.

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Building A Velocity Sensitive Keyboard


Cheap toy pianos don’t usually have MIDI, and getting a velocity-sensitive keyboard from something out of the toy aisle at Walmart is nearly out of the question. If you’re willing to tear one of these toy pianos apart and build your own control electronics, though, the sky is the limit, as [JenShen] shows us with his home built velocity sensitive keyboard.

Usually, velocity-sensitive keyboards have two buttons underneath each key. By having a microcontroller measure the time difference between when each button is pressed, it’s possible to sense how fast each key was pressed. [JenShen] took the idea of a velocity-sensitive keyboard in another direction and instead used a force sensitive resistor strip, cut up into many pieces to provide velocity and aftertouch data.

[JenShen]’s keyboard adds these resistive buttons to the button matrix he already made. The result is a very inexpensive velocity sensitive keyboard with aftertouch, an impressive feat for an Arduino and only a few components.

You can check out the keyboard in action after the break.

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