Arduino ant farm – is a musical instrument


Ants walking through IR gates manipulate the Auduino synth program. John spotted this at the RobotFest / Mid-Atlantic Mini Maker Faire. He writes –

I went to the RobotFest / Mid-Atlantic Mini Maker Faire yesterday. I saw this awesome project and thought you might like to put it on the blog. Basically it’s an ant farm with optointerrupts. When the ants walk through the lightpath, they modify the audio output. The maker’s name is Adam Franchino, and he was there with some of his classmates from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) His website is

14 thoughts on “Arduino ant farm – is a musical instrument

  1. says:

    I hate to be a downer, but, I’d call this more of a “proof-of-concept” than an instrument. This project seems to bear the burden of so many electronic “Instruments” that I’ve seen: It has a really great concept, and technical aspects are handled wonderfully, but it falls short in the last mile. That is, that ‘noise’ isn’t music. Music is an abstraction, not a one-to-one reaction. The maker in this case has collected some really cool, organic, data. In order to make something truly inspiring, he has to spend an equal amount of time abstracting that data inside of some form or composition in order to truly make it musical. I went to art school, so I’m sorry if this comes off sounding like a crit. Again, LOVE the concept and technical execution.

    1. Linus Akesson says:

      I understand your sentiments completely, and agree in the general case.

      However, I think you picked the wrong occasion to vent this frustration. The headline only claims that this is a “musical instrument”, not that what you hear is music. A two-year old at a piano, happily banging down keys at random, does not create music (in the proper sense of the word, according to you and me). However, the piano does not magically cease to be a musical instrument during the experiment.

      Arguably the ant farm has not yet mastered the instrument which has been given to it.

  2. Ninetynein says:

    This is an awesome project. And of course it’s absolutely music. It might not fit into every one’s limited definition of what music ‘should’ be, but so what. To each his own. I love it. Noise isn’t music? Wikipedia would beg to differ:

  3. theophrastus says:

    how are the little optointerrupts communicating with the main-board? (not enough there for bluetooth…) and for that matter, how are the little optointerrupts sticking to the glass so that they can still be easily moved about??

    as a beekeeper i’ve often thought about a similar set-up to log honeyflow activity. this is cool stuff!

  4. adam says:

    The front is just IR emitters connected to magnets, the clips are holding batteries to the LED legs. All of the information is collected in the back. There are IR detectors wired to an Arduino. These detectors are also attached to magnets, and paired with the emitters in the front. This makes it possible to drag the IR gates to different places, you just need to be careful about not twisting everything up in back.
    I hope this helps, thanks for the comments!

    ps. I never used the words music or instrument when i talked about this project, i don’t know where that started, but i really like the ideas and the feedback, Thanks!

    1. theophrastus says:

      I would’ve never guessed that solution. impressive!

      So what is ferrous for the magnets to stick to? the transparency (ferrous glass?) or the sand the ants are digging in? or…?

      1. adam says:

        nothing ferrous besides the magnets, the ant farm is thin and the magnets im using are pretty strong, i don’t think they would line up as well if there was something magnetic between them.
        I found 1/2 inch ring magnets and attached them to the heads of the emitters and detectors, they hold up well enough through the glass.

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