Wireless MIDI Floor Piano
Inspired by the many different DIY pressure plates that popped up on the internet right before Halloween, and the piano scene from the movie Big, I decided to make a big floor piano myself using pressure plates made out of cardboard and aluminum foil as the keys. In order to train myself to be spontaneous and not to overthink about all the details, I enlisted the help of my friends - Jason Chen, Justin Zhang, and Steve Wang - to build this piano within 24 hours at HackDuke 2013.
As the team leader and the only ECE major on the team, I was responsible for organizing brainstorming sessions to come up with key system features, providing technical guidance to all team members, and designing all the electrical circuits. In the end, we successfully created a 25-key piano that functions as a wireless MIDI controller. While playing the piano, you can use the remote to easily shift up or down octaves, switch between different MIDI instruments, and enter the tutorial mode where the piano teaches you how to play songs by turning on the LED strips on the keys.
The video shows my friend Jason Kim and I playing a few different songs on the piano. (I had to connect a power supply to the piano when shooting the video because the LiPo batteries powering the electronics in the box had just died.) Below are some pictures showing a revision of the pressure plate design, the major components of the system, and the communication scheme between these components. The source code for this project is available here.
Two sheets of aluminum foil are each taped to a piece of cardboard, and a strip of cardboard going around the edge is sandwiched in between. It turned out that there are two major problems with this design. First, the wrinkling of the aluminum foil allows the top and bottom to short even without any force applied. Second, the strip of cardboard sandwiched in the middle quickly becomes deformed after just a few minutes of playing, also leading to a short.
In redesigning the pressure plate, we addressed the two major issues with the previous version. To reduce the gap between the aluminum foil and the cardboard that it's attached to, we glued each sheet of aluminum foil to the cardboard. And to ensure the top and bottom remain separated after extended period of playing, we replaced the strip of cardboard sandwiched in the middle with four pieces of polyurethane foam.
We decided to assemble a total of 25 pressure plates, as a two-octave range is sufficient for playing lots of different songs. For visual appeal and the possibility of a tutorial mode, we taped a short LED strip to each key. Since we wanted to be able to carry it around easily, we split the keyboard into two halves - one with 12 keys and the other 13 - and taped together the keys in each half with duct tape.
The keyboard control unit consists of an Arduino Mega, an XBee module, 25 TIP120 Darlington Transistors, two strips of header pins, and a few LiPo batteries. Each half of the keyboard is connected to the corresponding header pins through a set of jumper wires. After detecting a key press/release, the Arduino Mega sends the information to the receiver through the XBee, and then turns on/off the TIP120 that drives the LED strip on that key.
The remote control is built around an ATtiny85 microcontroller. By turning the potentiometer, you can switch between 16 MIDI tracks in Logic Pro that are each set to a different instrument. You can shift up/down octaves by pressing the black pushbuttons, and enter/exit the tutorial mode by pressing the white one. The instrument and octave information is sent to the receiver, while the tutorial mode information is sent to the keyboard control unit.
The receiver is an Arduino Uno with an Xbee module attached to it. Based on the key press/release information received from the keyboard control unit, and the instrument and octave information from the remote control, the Arduino Uno sends MIDI messages over USB to Logic Pro to either start or end a note, or switch to a different track/instrument.
We taped sheets of letter-size paper to the pressure plates so that they look more like piano keys. This picture also shows how each of the two halves of the keyboard is connected to the keyboard control unit through a set of jumper wires (wrapped in electrical tape to prevent splitting).