Music is such a big part of our lives that we decided to search for new ways to make more out of the listening experience. Eventually we started thinking, why do we enjoy music solely through our ears? Music can and should be an experience of the mind, so what if we tried to add more human senses to it rather than just hearing? That's when we found our answer in TouchMusic.

What it does

The TouchMusic glove is a wearable gadget that enables a music lover to physically experience their favorite songs. The glove does this by decoding a song's rhythm and melody to construct patterns to vibrate into the hand. These palpable patterns will match the audible music for a synergistic, pleasurable sensation.

How it works

The software component (written in Python) first decodes the song into different bands of frequencies. After analyzing the bands with Fast Fourier Transform (FFT), it creates a sequence of vibrations that matches the song's rhythm and melody. The sequence of vibrations is then serialized and sent to the micro-controller for the glove.

On the hardware side, an Arduino Mega drives nine iPhone 4 vibration motors and multiple LEDs are sewn into a cotton glove. In order to drive the motors, we built a custom shield compatible with the Arduino. The shield uses nine power transistors driven by pulse-width modulation (PWM) signals to adjust the vibration intensity of each motor on the fly. A 9V battery is attached to the hardware house to power the system. The electronic component house is a 3D printed box that is connected by thin wires to the cotton glove. All components were carefully sewn in with conductive thread.

Challenges we ran into

  • Getting everything to synchronize with the song we wanted was especially challenging, and more so the further down the chain we sent our data. It was especially challenging since the vibrational motors rely on PWM, so we had to write our own scheduler on the Arduino and fit that in with having to periodically receive new vibration patterns at the same time, all the while keeping in sync with the song.
  • The vibration motors did not work with DC and we had to build our own custom shield.
  • Initially, we were intending to use a smaller micro controller (the LilyPad Arduino) so that it would be on the glove and could all be sewn without wires but it broke. Then we had to change to the larger Arduino Mega, and 3D print our own electronics housing.
  • We had to carefully plan where to sew each component with the conductive thread. We want to stress here that sewing was particularly difficult because we were using uninsulated conductive thread -- every mis-sew was not just an aesthetic mishap, but also a short circuit.

Accomplishments that we are proud of

We successfully sew everything into a glove, attached it to our hardware components and integrated it with our music. It was also very rewarding re-creating our own music visualizer with digital signal processing. TouchMusic feels like a final product that we enjoyed building and using and that we think others would too.

What's next for TouchMusic

With more time, we can build a better prototype that is more robust and portable. We can enhance the motor capabilities and aesthetics. We can do research on what patterns are more pleasing to the human senses to enhance music even more. We realistically see an opportunity for TouchMusic to make its way into the market as music enthusiasts are looking for new ways to transcend their listening experiences, and we believe TouchMusic does just that.

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