Our main inspiration for the idea of the Lead Zeppelin was a result of our wanting to help people with physical disorders still be able to appreciate and play music with restricted hand movements. There are countless--hundreds upon thousands of people who suffer from various physical disorders that prevent them from moving their arms much. When it comes to playing music, this proves a major issue as very few instruments can be played without open range of movement. Because every member of our team loves playing music, with the common instrument amongst all four of us being guitar, we decided to focus on trying to solve this issue for the acoustic guitar in particular.

What it does

The Lead Zeppelin uses mechanical systems placed above the guitar frets and sound hole that allow the user to play the instrument using only two keypads. Through this system, the user is able to play the guitar without needing to move much more than his or her fingers, effectively helping those with restricted elbow or arm movement to play the guitar.

How we built it

There were a lot of different components put into building the Lead Zeppelin. Starting with the frets, the main point was actually the inspiration for our project's name: the use of pencils--more specifically, their erasers. Each fret on each string has a pencil eraser hovering above it, which is used to press down the string at the user's intent. The pencils are able to be pushed down through the use of servos and a few mechanisms that were custom 3D printed. Above the sound hole, two servos are mounted to the guitar to allow for horizontal and vertical movement when plucking or strumming the strings. The last hardware parts were the circuit boards and the user's keypads, for which we utilized hot glue and sodder.

Challenges we ran into

There were many obstacles as we approached this project from all different aspects of the design to the mechanics. On the other hand, however, we expected challenges since we delved into the idea knowing it was going to be ambitious for our time constraints. One of the first challenges we confronted was short-circuiting two Raspberry Pi's that we'd intended to use, forcing us to switch over to Arduino--which was entirely unplanned for. When it came time to build, one of the main challenges that we ran into was creating the mechanism for the pressing down of the strings on the frets of the guitar. This is because not only did we have to create multiple custom CAD parts, but the scale on the guitar is also one that works in millimeters--leaving little room for error when designing, and even less so when time is taken into consideration. In addition, there were many issues with the servos not functioning properly and the batteries' voltages being too low for the high-power servos, which ended up consuming more time than was allotted for solving them.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

The biggest accomplishment for all of us is definitely pulling the whole project together to be able to create a guitar that can potentially be used for those with physical disabilities. When we were brainstorming ideas, there was a lot of doubt about every small detail that could potentially put everything we would work for to waste. Nonetheless, the idea and goal of our project was one that we really liked and so the fact that we were able to work together to make the project work was definitely impressive.

What we learned

One of the biggest lessons we'll keep in mind for next time is time management. We spent relatively little time in the first day working on the project, and especially considering the scale of our idea, this resulted in our necessity to stay up later and sleep less the later it got in the hackathon as we realized the magnitude of work we had left.

What's next for Lead Zeppelin

Currently, the model of Lead Zeppelin is only on a small scale meant to demonstrate proof of concept, considering the limited amount of time we had to work. In the future, this is an automated player that would be expanded to cover all of the frets and strings over the whole guitar. Furthermore, Lead Zeppelin is a step towards an entirely self-playing, automated guitar that could follow its complete development in the design helping those with physical disabilities.

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