Why wait for Apple to deliver a touchscreen tablet when you can make your own?
That’s the idea behind Berkeley student Yotam Mann’s do-it-yourself multitouch musical instrument, which will be exhibited at this weekend’s Maker Faire in San Mateo. A contraption of optical lasers, a webcam and some custom software, Mann’s homemade multitouch surface can hardly compete with Apple’s fine design, but it’s an easy, inexpensive way to explore your inner geek.
Mann’s exhibit will be one of more than 600 exhibits at the fair, including do-it-yourself projects, hacks, mods and other weird technological spectacles. With 80,000 attendees expected this year, Maker Faire is a rare event where the biggest nerds rule as king — or perhaps federation ambassador, galactic emperor, or president of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol.
“You get these ethereal synth pad sounds,” Mann said of his multitouch instrument. “It’s sort of this sci-fi woo-oo-oo-oo.”
Plenty will likely swoon at the sight of Mann’s multitouch surface after the phenomenally popular iPhone brought multitouch screens to the mainstream. His project’s setup is quite simple. In summary, you mount two laser modules on the back corners of the work surface, facing each other at 45 degrees. Then, you install a webcam in a position where it can view the entire surface. After that, you run Mann’s software, which he coded in Max-MSP (a fancy visual programming language), on your computer, and follow the on-screen directions.
Mann’s software includes one audio app. Using it you can manipulate the lasers with your hands to create sounds ranging from alien noises to flute-like intonations. Bending your finger changes pitch, and the volume depends on your hands’ distance from the surface.
Altogether, this project won’t cost much — assuming you already own a computer. The lasers and webcam combined can cost as little as $40, Mann said.
The student, who is majoring in music and minoring in computer science, admits his gadget isn’t truly multitouch: At some points on the surface one finger might block another from being detected by the lasers. But then again, a true multitouch tablet would be far more expensive to create, and DIY projects like these are designed mainly to learn about technology while having some fun.
At Maker Faire, Mann will be showing interested attendees how he built the device and offering free access to his code.
“It’s definitely an open-source idea,” Mann said of his multitouch surface. “For me it’s a musical instrument, but I’d like for people to see what applications they can get out of it.”