Pneumatic technology is usually associated with machine control, but at the Medical Design & Manufacturing West Conference in Anaheim, Calif., it was about music.
Clippard Instrument Laboratory Inc., a maker of pneumatic components, demonstrated a guitar that employs 62 air cylinders and 62 pneumatic valves to play music. The brainchild of company namesake Rob Clippard, the guitar uses a combination of 5/16th-inch and 5/32-inch air cylinders to strum its six strings. It also employs a half-inch-diameter cylinder to provide an "acoustic thump" for the music.
Clippard's air guitar uses a combination of 5/16-inch and 5/32-inch air cylinders to strum its six strings. A half-inch-diameter cylinder provides percussion. (Source: Clippard Instrument Laboratory Inc.)
"Rob's musical, and he grew up with Clippard technology, so he just combined the two," says Edward Ehrhardt, sales application engineer for Clippard.
The Air Guitar plays Rob Clippard's own original songs, which are encoded in MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) protocol files. The files are communicated from an iPad to a microcontroller-based I/O board, which decides which valves to fire.
At the show, the Air Guitar drew crowds as it played a running loop of Rob's music.
The Air Guitar isn't his first foray into pneumatic music. He previously designed a 6-foot-diameter "music tree," which employed air to play strings, whistles, and cow bells. The musical tree is now housed at the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History.
Air Guitar Videos
Here's a video shot by the author at the MD&M conference:
Out of the box? Actually pneumatic control and pre-computer age playback of musical instruments is an old concept. Some player pianos used air escaping through the slits in the piano rolls to control the hammers! And some of the carousel mechanical bands did likewise.
One of the pitfalls with mechanizing musical instruments is extraneous noise produced by the actuators. The clicking of the mechanical fingers of Clippard's air guitar would be unacceptable in a serious implementation.
Good exercise in engineering but means nothing musically. Guitars are a delicate combination of wood, steel, and sometimes electricity. When a human being puts fingers to the strings is when the magic happens. An iPad keyboard? Gimme a break. People are always looking for a way to play a guitar without actually picking one up and learning how to play. Yeah, it's not easy, but that's the point. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
So more of an inspiration and a reminder for engineers to think out of the box, even for well-known, highly established technologies. That in itself is an important lesson and one everyone needs to be consistently reminded of. Thanks for sharing, Chuck.
Right now, Rob, it looks like it's just going to serve as an attention-getter at trade shows. It's certainly very good at that. I was at the MD&D show for two days last week and this guitar consistently clogged the aisle around the Clippard booth.
Beth: Pneumatics has always been known for its use in high-speed, precise motion applications, so I don't think this application would come as a shock to anyone who knows the technology. But this is one of those applications that looks more obvious in retrospect. I think the takeaway is its use in applications outside the prescribed boundaries of our usual thinking. I suspect there are other applications out there that don't require any great advances in technology, but just need someone like Rob Clippard who is willing to think outside the box.
Nice video, Chuck, and an interesting story. Do you have any idea what Rob plans to do with his air guitar? Doesn't seem like it's the type of gadget that would become a consumer product. Perhaps it works to show off his company's capabilities.
What fun! I agree with vimalkumarp, this is a great example of what's possible when you think creatively about design: "what if we could..." "what would happen if..." This is the essence of what's been happening in Silicon Valley for several decades and anywhere engineers are encouraged and allowed to think outside the box.
I think the takeaway here is the power to explore different possibilities. This kind of exercises will help to find out soultions hitherto thought impossible. It is one form of TRIZ I would say. Solving problems in one domain using the proven expertise in another domain. I know i am not really hitting the target here but the idea here is similar to that of using ultrasound to measure blood pressure. Though ultrasound is not an obvious choice for this, it can still be used.
Very cool riff on the air guitar and as vimalkumarp notes, a noteable effort to link art, music, and technology. My question for you Chuck is beyond the cool factor, what's the greater takeaway for engineers employing pneumatics in terms of how they too can leverage similar capabiliites to come with designs and controls that are out of the ordinary?
Design engineers need to prepare for a future in which their electronic products will use not just one or two, but possibly many user interfaces that involve touch, vision, gestures, and even eye movements.
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