What inspired you to do this?
My bandmate Stephen Slater is an outstanding drummer, but he's also a great vibraphone player. For years we've played together in a group where he plays drums, but I wanted to take it in a new direction where he plays vibraphone. So it occurred to me that if I replaced him with a robot, not only would he be free to play vibes, but it would be a great gimmick for the band too.
How long did it take to make it?
About 4 months. I started in on it in December of 2020. I suppose I would characterize it as my COVID lockdown project.
How long have you been doing things like this?
Oh, I've been making and hacking electronic music instruments since I got into the circuit bending scene around 2001. But for proper robotics and mechanical projects like this specifically, really only the last 4 years.
How much did this cost to do?
Around $100 for the electronics, $80 for the motors and solenoids, another $100 for the percussion, and $40 in steel to weld the frame. Throw in some nuts and bolts and zip ties and 3D printed parts and I'd put the grand total at about $400.
Have you done other things like this?
My big project last year was making a cocktail machine called the VK-01 (https://www.instructables.com/VK-01-Off-World-Bartender/). In many ways I was dealing with some of the same problems -- low voltage micro controllers, higher voltage motors, and timing everything together.
What did you wish you knew before you started this?
How much fun it is to have an excuse to order up a bunch of cheap percussion. Bongos and frame drums and tambourines and shakers -- they're all pretty cheap and tons of fun to play with. Building this was a great excuse to order up silly sound makers that I otherwise would have felt silly buying.
Are there plans available to make this? Do you sell this?
Not yet. I'm still working out some kinks, but once I settle on something I like I'll likely put the details in an Instructables guide like I did with my cocktail machine.
There's still a lot of work to do to get this ready to play nice with my new group. I need to make a rugged enclosure for all the electronics. I want to incorporate some cymbals and a shaker. I've also deliberately made it so that the top half of the frame (holding all the percussion) can come out, allowing me to swap in a whole other arrangement of instruments. One day I hope to have a bunch of different options I can drop in, either for lounge, or rock, or electronic pieces like this one.
I started with this Adafruit guide by the Ruiz brothers and Liz Clark: https://learn.adafruit.com/midi-solenoid-drum-kit
Liz also has a great guide on creating a MIDI triggered Xylophone that communicates wirelessly over Bluetooth: https://learn.adafruit.com/wireless-ble-midi-robot-xylophone
I also found a ton of inspiration in the works and videos of Moritz Simon Geist. https://www.moritzsimongeist.com/