Have you ever wanted your own cute and friendly robot that you can play music with? Dr. Squiggles is just that — a musical drumming robot that plays rhythms by tapping on whatever surface you set it on. Moreover, if you tap rhythms, it can listen to you through its microphone, synchronize to your beat, imitate you, or learn to play rhythms that are similar but not identical to yours!
When I designed Dr. Squiggles, I wanted to make the most mechanically simple robot I could think of, and try to imbue it with the most complex behavior possible. Essentially, it’s just a contact microphone and eight solenoids controlled by an embedded computer.
• Eight solenoids tap the rhythms.
• A low-res LED matrix serves as the robot’s eye.
• A contact microphone listens selectively to rhythms that you play.
• An embedded Raspberry Pi computer does the “smart” tasks of analyzing what you play and generating rhythms.
• A Teensy microcontroller animates the eye and receives USB-MIDI messages from the Raspberry Pi, upon which it applies voltage to the solenoids, causing them to eject and make tapping sounds.
I designed Dr. Squiggles as part of my research at University of Oslo, where I study human-robot and robot-robot interaction in the context of music. Recently I’ve been especially interested in how swarms of simple robots can make music together, so my colleagues and I built ten Dr. Squiggleses. We got really good at building them and so we wanted to share the process with you!