Interactive Musical Tire Swing

Arduino Craft & Design
Interactive Musical Tire Swing

interactive tire swing by christina chu

The Interactive Musical Tire Swing is a ton of fun to play with and was a big hit at Maker Faire Bay Area last year. In a nutshell, it plays soundtracks and musical beats depending on the rider’s acceleration and rotation. The Swing will be back at this year’s Faire, taking place May 18 and 19 at the San Mateo Fairgrounds.

The first iteration of the project was born out of TechShop’s Maker Startup Weekend last year, and the team, consisting of Christina Chu, Andrew Maximow, Bill Thomasmeyer, and Ace Shelander, designed, fabricated, built, programmed, and integrated the Swing in one weekend. We chatted with team member Christina Chu, who was mainly responsible for the Arduino programming and electronics design (they used an iPhone + Redpark Serial Cable connected to an Arduino), to learn more. comingtobayareamakerfaire_2013

1. Describe how the Musical Tire swing works. What are the tech specs?
The Musical Tire Swing integrates light and sound effects with measurements in acceleration and gyroscopic motion in the x, y, and z planes. The gyroscope motion can be described with an image of a plane [below]. Roll, pitch, and yaw refer to rotations about the respective axes. Yaw is name for rotation around an axis that is similar to spinning a top, or shaking your head “no.” Accelerometers can’t measure this type of motion, but gyros can measure it.

XYZ acceleration: A bump in the tire usually shows an increase in acceleration readings. It will trigger a sound effect and light chaser sequence. Roll (y-axis): Sound effects and light flash triggered above a threshold in roll and pitch readings. Pitch (x-axis): Sound effects and light flash triggered above a threshold in roll and pitch readings. Yaw (z-axis): This is a spinning motion. This reading changes the speed of the music.

tire swing plane graphic

2. What inspired you to make the Musical Tire Swing and what was your R&D process like?
Everywhere we go, we hear music. Music we listen to tends to drive our moods and movements. But I wanted to experience how our movements can drive changes in the music instead. In the tire swing, the individual is engaged in changing the music and sounds through their motions, instead of being driven by it. As a society we’re so used to sound being played at us, so it takes a moment to recognize that the swing movement is doing the sound modifications.

One of the special things about DIY is having the power to decide what is interactive in your project. Sometimes it works really well, and other times it’s a flop. It didn’t turn out as I first envisioned, but the entertainment value was a real hit. Since building a sound installation was new to me, it took several events with lots of feedback and many different soundtracks before the bugs got ironed out.

The Musical Tire Swing started out as a fun project for Burning Man. I picked a tire swing because it has more than one axis for motion and the versatility means a lot can be done with the music instead of a traditional forward and backward swing. Its a lot of fun watching people get dizzy spinning on the tire swing and listen to the music warp. It’s a mini carnival ride that distorts in more than one of your senses! The great thing about the musical tire swing is that it works for more than one audience and is great for both adults and kids. It’s been to carnivals, fundraisers, and campouts.

3. How was your experience showing the swing at Maker Faire last year? What made you decide to participate again?
The Swing was in its earlier stages of development last Maker Faire. We’re hoping to bring it back again and see how people interact with it. We made a few changes to the swing, namely an interface to let people choose their sounds. And we fixed a couple of bugs here and there. We also added more video game soundtracks because people loved the Mario soundtrack so much last year.

The Musical Tire Swing is a challenging work in progress because it is multidisciplinary — there are electrical, mechanical, and software components all integrated with a tire and the structural support unit, which Ace Shelander designed. The fun part is that every time time I work on the project, I discover something new I hadn’t thought of before, and I learn a bit more about myself in the process.

4. What was one of your most memorable moments at last year’s Faire?
I heard a the kid screaming at the top of his lungs when his parent picked him off the swing. I thought he had hurt himself, but actually he was having such a good time he didn’t want to leave! That was the best part of Maker Faire — it felt great to know somebody really loved it.

5. Tell us about yourself. How did you get started making things? What is your day job?
I started out in software but I really love making things. I come from an innovative family; my dad is a lifelong inventor. It’s a different challenge when the project is physical vs. virtual; for example, the cost to make mistakes is very low in software comparatively. But I also feel that building a project that is physical is fulfilling because you can feel it and touch it at the end of the day. Both TechShop and the maker communities have been great liberators. Also the Arduino — I’m so happy this tool is now available because it lowers the barrier to entry into electronics and testing out ideas quickly. The Arduino’s opened up a lot of creative doors for me; I know it’s possible to do these things with traditional electronics, but the inertia barrier is just tremendous. Reducing the time to experiment is truly valuable to me.

Come play with us and check out the Interactive Musical Tire Swing (plus over 900 other maker-made exhibits) next weekend, May 18 and 19, at the San Mateo Fairgrounds! All the information you need to attend is on the Maker Faire site. See you there!

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at or via @snowgoli.

View more articles by Goli Mohammadi