Christian Cerrito
Michael Rosenthal

Solar Robotic Instruments

Solar powered robots create amazing, motor driven music based on end-user interaction


New Interfaces for Musical Expression

Based on the popular beambot Miller Solar Engine, Chris Cerrito and Mike Rosenthal have created a series of musical instruments that rely on solar power to drive a motor. The results are a series of robotic instruments that the user can bring to life simply by shining a lights on their various solar panels. By moving the lights further/closer to the bots, the user is able to control the speed at which the motors turn, altering the sounds produced.

Included in this proposal are:

PlateBots - These are percussive instruments made out of metal plates, motors, and many nuts and bolts. The plate hops around, creating a series of percussive sounds, whenever light is shined upon it.

WobbleBots - Three bots that are each comprised of a one-foot square piece of plexi glass attached by springs to a base. The piece of plexi has a motor attached to it. When light hits the solar cells, the table starts shaking the small bits (screws, nuts, lentils, dried beans, etc.) that are on it's surface. creating a beautiful ambient sonic texture. As the small bits seemingly "come to life", on the vibrating table surface, these bots are also quite fun to watch.

PaperBots - Two pieces of butcher block paper suspended in air with motors attached to the top, creating a deep drone sound when activated.

AlumaBots - Nearly identical to the PaperBots, but instead employing sheets of thin aluminum to generate a sound resembling "thunder".

PontoonBots - small, single solar cell instruments with pager-motors built into pontoons on which the device hops around, creating nice percussive textures.

Xylobot - the sole melodic instrument in the group. This takes the form of a windmill mallet that strikes a series of magnetic xylophone tiles.

We researched the art of BEAMbots, which use solar power and a Miller Engine to propel them about in short bursts. We built several of these bots and determined that their functionality could be repurposed to create simple but powerful musical instruments. To that end, we designed and printed a simple Miller Solar Engine circuit, allowing us to produce many identical engines that could easily be used to power a variety of instruments. The rest of the work was just coming up with creative ways to use these basic engines.

Our target audience consisted of people who like to interact with "lively" technology and are not afraid to engage with instruments in a setting like the ITP Winter Show. Also, those interested in solar/beambot technology should find this project to be engaging.

User Scenario
The user approaches the table where the Solar Robotic Instruments are sitting. They take a light, turn it on, and point it at the various objects on the table. The instruments instantly spring to life and start making noise. Ideally, multiple people are at the table at the same time, and they improvise together, discovering the changes in the instruments based on the direct feedback of the light sources. Musical harmony ensues through a uniquely solar, kinetic experience, exploring the realms of implicit and explicit interaction.

The bots are constructed out of metal, wood, plexiglass, etc. There are three wobblebots, four paperbots, 2 pontoonbots, 2 platebots, and a xylobot. At various times we will have some or all of these out on the table for the users to interact with. There will also be a dozen small lights that are used to "play" the instruments. Chris and Mike will be on hand to guide the end-user and to "jam" with them.

We learned how to use solar power to create motor driven instruments. We learned how to apply a relatively simple technology to a series of interesting and rewarding instruments.