Sound Automata - Exploratorium

THINGS TO TRY
The Sound
Automata activity
was inspired by
Sound Automata
Explore the surprising sounds that everyday objects make. Build a noisemaking contraption from these objects, then add a motor and PicoCricket
to automate your contraption. Finally, add a light sensor and program
your sound automata to “play” when triggered by light.
Cabaret
Mechanical Theatre
PIE Institute shares a
playful and
inventive approach
to teaching science,
art, and technology.
© E X P L O R ATO R I U M
PIE Institute: www.exploratorium.edu/PIE
TRY IT! COLLECT THESE THINGS
PicoCricket, light sensor,
motor and motor controller,
display and a touch switch.
(www.picocricket.com)
LEGO axles and axle extenders
hand saw or electric scroll saw
hand drill or drill press
and drill bits
Scissors, wire cutters, flashlight
hot melt glue gun and glue
Wood scraps: 20cm x 20cm
(8”x8”) for bases
and other scrap wood
for structural support
Connectors:
string, masking tape,
duct tape, cable ties,
aluminum wire
Noise-making things:
pots, pans, silverware,
wooden spoons, toys,
beans, misc. containers,
etc.
Paper and pencils
LEGO gears and blocks
for a geared down
motor mechanism
Things to Tr y: Sound Automata
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MAKE A NOISE
Experiment with the noise-making
things (tapping, scraping, shaking, etc.)
until you find a sound that you like.
Try to discover as many sounds as
possible from each object.
Once you find a sound that you like, pay attention to what your hands are doing in order
to make that sound. Imagine how you might make a motor driven machine to make the
sound instead of your hands.
Tip: Pay close attention to the motion, rhythm, direction, and force of your hands.
Things to Tr y: Sound Automata
PIE Institute: www.exploratorium.edu/PIE
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Tip: Look at examples
to get ideas for motion.
You can find a few
mechanical ideas
in the Cardboard
Automata PDF.
Download it here
Tip: Sometimes it is helpful to make a drawing once you have an idea of what you might build.
MAKE YOUR MACHINE
Build your sound automata
through trial and error.
Things to Tr y: Sound Automata
PIE Institute: www.exploratorium.edu/PIE
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Tip: Attach a Pico touch switch and
a LEGO motor to a PicoCricket.
Program the cricket so the
motor will turn on when
the switch is depressed, and
turn off when it is released.
You can use this to test your
contraption as you build.
Tip: Skewer sticks fit nicely
into the motor opening.
Tip: There are several ways of attaching your
LEGO motor to your sound automata.
Tip: You might “gear down” your
motor to slow it down and make
it stronger.
Tip: For secure connections, we like to glue the axle connector or LEGO axles
to our cams and attach the motors with less permanent things like zip ties.
Things to Tr y: Sound Automata
PIE Institute: www.exploratorium.edu/PIE
Page 5
Tip: You might program your PicoCricket to
change direction while the motor is running.
ADD A NEW INPUT
Replace the Pico touch switch with a Pico
light sensor - attach it to your sound
automata.
Program the PICOCricket in two steps
First, connect a display and darken the
room to find the light sensor reading
when the flashlight shines on the sensor.
Second, program your PicoCricket to activate the motor on your sound automata when
the light sensor is being lit by the flashlight, and off when it is not (or vice versa).
TRY IT OUT! See how your new sound automata responds to light
Things to Tr y: Sound Automata
PIE Institute: www.exploratorium.edu/PIE
Page 6
TAKING IT FURTHER
Make a scratch film to
project onto your sound
automata. This will create
a playful and inventive
mechanical soundtrack to
your scratch film.
For more on
Sound Automata
visit the PIE website
Why is this a Playful and Inventive Exploration?
Turning an idea into reality
This activity is a good way to practice
building real contraptions from ideas.
Somewhat challenging
Building sound automata is not easy.
While the activity is challenging in many
ways, participants will be able to complete
a project that expresses their ideas.
Digital technology
is a tool, not the focus
Making a contraption that produces a
sound is the main focus of the activity.
The PicoCricket is just another tool
or material for exploration.
Things to Tr y: Sound Automata
PIE Institute: www.exploratorium.edu/PIE
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WHY IS THIS A PLAYFUL AND INVENTIVE EXPLORATION? (continued)
Diverse solutions
to a shared theme
When this activity is done as a part of
a workshop there are several different
solutions for the design of the sound
automata.
Collaborative opportunities
Sharing everyone’s sound automata at the end of the activity, especially when done in a group,
or as part of a scratch film activity, is a good way for each individual to contribute to a
collaborative performance.
RELATED IDEAS
Arcade shooting galleries use light sensors as triggers for their targets.
Try This: Sneak a flash picture of a shooting
gallery the next time you are near one, all of
the targets may be triggered at once!
The Musée de Mécanique
at Pier 45 in San Francisco
has a number of antique musicmaking devices on display.
www.museemecanique.org
This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. ESI-04-52567.
Any opinions. findings, and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Science Foundation.
Things to Tr y: Sound Automata
PIE Institute: www.exploratorium.edu/PIE
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