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Velosynth: the hackable, open-source… bicycle synth?

Submitted by on June 24, 2010 – 9:52 pm 4 Comments

I’m not sure entirely what to make of this, but it sure got my attention. Velosynth is a DIY kit for “an open-source bicycle interaction synthesizer” that attaches to your bike, playing sounds interactively.

Made by EFFALO, a research and design collaborative in Portland, Oregon, the Velosynth is basically a small, hackable computer that augments the cycling experience by interpreting speed, acceleration, and other sensor data into “useful audio feedback”.

Incidentally, EFFALO’s mission statement is “… to synthesize, modulate, and deploy multimodal interaction environments that promote expressive feedback between humans and technology.” Yikes.

How does it work? well, the velosynth attaches to your bike with elastic cords that loop around the tubes of the frame. A “3d-printed holster” holds a magnet onto one of the spokes of your wheel, which gets detected by a sensor attached to your fork.

A three-axis accelerometer inside the box detects turning, leaning, tilting, speed and acceleration data. All of this data gets processed by the cpu and spits out sound and visual feedback via a 4-digit, 7-segment display that shines through the skin of the enclosure.

The audio is created with a DCO (digital oscillator) feeding a “modular, patchable digital synthesizer circuit”, and controlled via the cpu. its output is amplified and sent to the speaker.

This all brings us to… WHY? I’ll let them put it in their own words:

“It allows you to expressivley interact within your transportation environment, all the while exploring the possibilities of networked, bicycle-based computing.”

I have no idea how they say that with a straight face.

In any case, the entire system is open source and supremely hackable. The Velosynth makes use of small, reusable breadboard modules rather than printed circuit board to make it easy to modify.

You could, for instance, patch it so that the faster you go, the higher the pitch or to “make a big wooshing sound as you round a corner”. Let people know that you’ve passing them in style.

You could also set it to play a certain song or melody when you are travelling in a certain direction, and it will even communicate musically with other bikes through a built-in wireless network.

Ok, pretty cool, but who would really want one… I guess you’d have to fall squarely into this group:

They have just released a “super-alpha, hella-low-level kit.”, and… it’s already sold out. The kits are aimed at pretty technical people, who are already familiar with Arduino, microcontrollers and programming.

“It is our hope that these kits end up in the hands of creative, self-starting individuals keen on sharing their ideas and documenting their work. we believe in open source and need your help to explore the possibilities of bicycle-based computing!”

They are, however working on a new batch. For $100, they send you a kit with all the parts, and for the uninitiated, you can buy an assembled, ready-to-go unit for $250. You can pre-order a unit (or donate to the cause) right here.

Here’s their promo video:

What do you think: – super cool, hackable platform, or the work of a crazed lunatic?


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