Arduino makes electronics design look easy; it only takes an Arduino board and a computer to program your own “robot piano.” The Design Initiative went boldly into the world of ones-and-zeros last Thursday, led by Jimmy Chion (co-term, Mechanical Engineering).
Jimmy began by explaining some basic circuit theory to the designers. Our favorite analogy: he likened the flow of current through a circuit to the flow of water in a turbine. “Think of the current as the width of the pipe,” Jimmy said, holding his hands to form an imaginary conduit. “And think of the voltage as the velocity of water in the pipe.” Jimmy explained how circuits need to begin and end at a battery (metaphorically, our “turbine”), with careful attention paid to make sure that the “water” doesn’t jump of its “channel.”
As he explained circuits, it became clear that the messy work of building such a gadget would involve soldering, stripping, and a lot of expertise. Luckily, Jimmy’s Arduino tools let us skip the bother of constructing a circuit from scratch: instead, we operated on large, easy-to-use, “breadboards.” The breadboard exposed a simple grid of connective strips, and came in handy as we diagrammed our first circuits. Hooking an Arduino board to the breadboard gave logic and power to our circuit: suddenly, we could program actions like, “play a tone,” “light a lamp,” or “move a motor.”
Our goal was to craft a robot piano: using buttons and LEDs that Jimmy handed out, we broke up into teams. Some reached for the computer, and began crafting code to make our gizmo run. Others began studiously plugging away at the breadboard, wiring together a system of buttons, lights, and speakers. Jimmy flitted from team to team, making sure each circuit kept the “water” flowing easily. It wasn’t too long before faces and breadboards began lighting up: short snatches of electronic music filled the air. One team even took the piano to its pop culture extension, and gave a mini-concert featuring Rebecca Black’s infamous, “Friday” (see above).