I have been talking about wristbands in most of my recent blog entries and even mentioned that there is an own entry to come, dedicated to the wristbands. Well, here it is- the wristband post.
The choice of wristbands might seem like a small choice, but it actually had quite an impact on the conceptual design progress. To recap – the wristbands are supposed to measure motion data, which is most easily done by accelerometers and gyro sensors. And they should send this data with low latency (so basically in real time) to any module that can be interfaced with a computer.
With a little background in electrical engineering and computer science, I wanted to consider to build the wristband-host solution myself to tailor it exactly to my needs and save costs. This meant that I needed a microcontroller in a size that fits on a wristband, an accelerometer, a gyro sensor, a wireless module to send the data to a host, and finally a host module to receive this data. My supervisor pointed me towards the wireless protocol ZigBee, which is often used in low-latency smart home applications, making it a great candidate for the wristbands for The Emotional Space as well. Looking for ZigBee modules, I stumbled over the series of XBee devices. The XBee 3 ZigBee 3 module offers analog inputs that I can connect sensors to and has the possibility to send them directly to a host. It therefore is a wireless module and a microcontroller at once, with a very small footprint, making it a great choice for my needs. However, my time for this project is quite limited and I do not want to spend more time than needed on this preliminary part of the project, which is why I always had a preference for a ‘ready-to-go’-solution.
While I knew exactly what I wanted and what the wristbands should be able to do, it was more tricky than expected to find suitable solutions. Many of the devices I found are used in health applications, therefore had to fulfill additional requirements, which made them too expensive for this project. One company that provided what I needed at quite a cost, but at least in a somewhat feasible range was MBIENTLAB with their product MMRL. However, it also still had too many additional sensors – which would provide great additional data for the generative aspect of the soundscape, but also drive the price for the product up.
Looking for wireless devices in musical applications, I discovered Neova, that provides motion sensing by wearing a ring. While it has a ready-to-go interface most DAWs support, I am a little skeptical about its configuration and data stream accessibility options. I would like to be able to work with almost raw sensor data, which might not be possible with this device. Furthermore, it is unfortunately also out of price range, considering that I might need 3-5 devices.
The head of my study program thankfully made me aware of an extremely interesting company, called Instruments of Things, which has a product series called 2.4SINK. This seems to be exactly the kind of device I was looking for. Extremely low latency, access to raw sensor data (using a Eurorack module that can be interfaced with e.g. Ableton Link) and a small and attractive design. One host module supports up to seven wristbands, which exactly fits my needs. Just the Eurorack module seems to make it a little more complicated than necessary, but that is not at all an issue. Additionally, Instruments of Things have a new series coming out, called SOMI-1 (currently only available via Indiegogo), which seems to fit even better into my project, since the host module works using USB. If the product release is on time, it might still be feasible to use the SOMI-1 for The Emotional Space. But that is left to be evaluated.
Concluding, I am still to test the products of Instruments of Things, but for now, they look extremely promising and well fitted for the application I have in mind. They are remotely configurable and come with a VST, that can, but does not have to be used, which gives me the necessary hope for flexibility when working with them.
My next blog post will be my last one for this semester, outlining the next steps and a rough time plan. And in some weeks I will hopefully be back with some first results about testing the Instrument of Things wristbands.