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'Velosynth': An open-source, audio synthesizer for your bike

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on June 18th, 2010 at 12:13 pm

There's more than meets the eye.
-Watch video below-

Northeast Portland resident Michael Felix has just launched a project called Velosynth, an "open-source bicycle interaction synthesizer." Or, in other words, it's "a small computer that you attach to your bicycle that interprets your motion into sound."

With mobile sound systems flourishing on bikes throughout the city (you've likely heard and seen one of them on Pedalpalooza rides like Bowie vs. Prince or Splash Dance), Felix's Velosynth looks to fill a different niche than simply playing loud music.

In a note he sent us about the project, Felix said he wants to use audio as a bicycle computer interface instead of relying on a visual display. "After all, shouldn't you be paying attention to the ride and not staring at a screen?"

In addition, he says that the Velosynth could be used as a communication tool between people on bikes and others on the road. "It's like a bike-bell, except fully programmable."

So, how does it work? Here's a visual:

Got it?

And if you're more a word-based learner, here's an explanation:

a hall-effect sensor attached to the fork detects the presence of a magnet fixed to a spoke of the front wheel. a three-axis accelerometer within the enclosure can be used to detect turning, leaning, and tilting. sensor data is collected and transmogrified by the cpu, which provides both audio and visual feedback.

audio feedback is created using a digital oscillator circuit that is controlled by a digital potentiometer connected to the cpu. its output is amplified and sent to the speaker.

visual feedback is negotiated through a 4-digit, 7-segment display that shines through the skin of the enclosure. additional LEDs can also be added and controlled by the CPU.

And here's what you can do with it:

The project is just getting off the ground. So far, Felix has built 10 kits and he's looking for "hacker-savvy cyclists" who can help take the idea to the next level. On that note, he's also set up a Kickstarter page to raise awareness of the project. Felix is principal in the company Effalo.

Check out the video of the Velosynth below:

velosynth release#001 from velosynth on Vimeo.

The Velosynth was developed by EFFALO, a research and design collaborative with its headquarters in Portland.

In related news, a few local riders have tweaked their sound systems to create a mobile Pirate Radio Station at 88.1 FM. It will be in action tonight at the dual Dropout Bike Club/Prom Ride event.

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Comments
  • Alex Stange June 18, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Cool, I can make my bike go vroom vroom when I accelerate! I'm sure there are more useful applications in mind though.

    Please pick a station other than Jazz radio. Use "The Fish" instead.

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  • bahueh June 18, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    sure, but is it legal to be "communicating" with other people on the road?...and would it actually be effective (I mean, most drivers have their windows rolled up, don't they?..it is Portland after all and it does rain here quite a bit). oh, how waterproof is it?

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  • Patrick June 18, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    When I was a kid I had a Mattel "Varoom." http://www.yourememberthat.com/media/3040/Vroom_Bicycle_Toy_Mattel_Toys/
    Anyhow this sounds more 'artsy' and only slightly less annoying--I can't wait to get one!

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  • resopmok June 18, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    Maybe I don't understand the full intent here, but is it supposed to be a musical instrument, or an on-board bike computer?

    As an instrument, i think it would have merits in taking factors from your environment and translating them into something listenable - no song would ever be the same. However, the bleeps and blips of yesteryear's oscillators and synthesized sound bring me back to early 80's video games. Nostalgic, yes, but little more than novelty status I think. Even MIDI would be a better option given a slew of sampled sounds, multi-tracking and all the variables of tone control available. The output, I have a feeling though, would come out decidedly minimalistic or drum and rhythm based. Depends on your tastes, I suppose, but this contraption doesn't scream "instrument" to me like a piano or guitar does.

    Maybe a less modern kludger would build something that uses a bellows powered by the pedals, blowing air through reed pipes whose lengths are modified by holes in the handlebars. Either way, you have something of a rolling hurdy-gurdy spectacle for attracting attention.

    As for it being an on-bike computer? Probably better off writing an iPhone or Android app that will access realtime information from your wireless powertap via voice commands. Might make one hell of a speakerphone, though.

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  • Anne Hawley June 18, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    @resopmok #4: Your steampunk re-visioning of this invention delights me. Just sayin'.

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  • Dan Kaufman June 18, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    This could be very practical for electric cars and hybrids that run very silent and often run over blind people.

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  • EFFALO June 18, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    hi everyone! thanks for all the wonderful feedback! i'll try to answer some of these questions in brief:

    @bahueh — there's no chance you'll be able to hear velosynth through car windows, it's only about .5W of power, so it's mainly meant to broadcast audio in the area around you. however, the device does have a wireless data interface that can be used to exchange data between bicycles. we haven't tested it too much in the rain, but as it stands it's fairly water-resistant,

    @resopmok — great ideas! i'd love for this thing to have a full-blown MIDI + sampling capability. but you gotta start somewhere, and using simple digital synthesis chips is just the fastest way to get started. once we understand more about the possibilities, we can miniaturize everything.

    also, we could have used a smartphone to control all of this, but they just aren't easy enough to hack on (yet). microcontrollers are far easier to work with in this context, and this approach keeps the device focused on a single function rather than another app on your mobile.

    also, thanks bikeportland for posting this! splendid writeup!

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  • CaptainKarma June 18, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    What the Velosynth really needs to do is be a theft alarm and or GPS transmitter. Whatever. But Puhleaze! Why in the H do we need "sound systems" on bikes anyway. To further annoy the natives as well as fellow riders? Is this going to be helpful or not helpful? Not talking about the velosynth, but music boxes & batteries & B.S.

    I love music and I love bicycling, and I love how nice and civil this city is compared to other places I've lived. One of the things I love about bicycling is the peace & fresh air and joy it brings. I DO NOT want to be forced to hear some A##h%le blasting some crap for everyone else to have to put up with. I thought I left that S#@t in the south; thumping rap-crap car stereos waking up children, babies, infirm, and elderly with drive-by noise pollution; no regard for anyone else except "me". Musical tastes are extremely diverse; what you love, sucks to the max for the person next to you. That's why they invented IPods and such. Keep it to yourself.

    Want some fries with that drink? How about some police interaction due to noise(just don't make a move for your cell-phone):

    "...special police officers of the City...shall have authority to issue citations for the violations of this Title and to this extent shall exercise full police power and authority."

    14.24.150 Unnecessary Noise.

    14.24.160 Unlawful Operation of Sound Producing or Reproducing Equipment. Basically, a $500 fine if they can hear your "music" "within any dwelling unit which is not the source of the sound; or to operate any such device on public property or on a public right-of-way so as to be plainly audible 50 feet or more "

    18.12.010 Noise Disturbance Prohibited: It shall be unlawful for any person to willfully make, continue, cause or permit to be made or continued any noise disturbance within the City of Portland.

    They are very serious about this and have about 16 scientific parameters to measure just how guilty one is. And of course they can always get you on just general disturbing of the peace, any hour or location or reason just about.

    Yeah, it's a free country more or less, but your rights do not steamroll (or TriMet bus) someone else's rights.

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  • Dave June 18, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    Please God no. I don't want to listen to your new Jay-Z album when you're rollin' in your Escalade. I don't want to listen to your new Avett Brothers album when you're rollin' on your cargo bike. And I certainly don't want to listen to your bleep bloop bicycle synthesizer. I'll go home and put on some Kraftwerk if I'm in that kind of mood.

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  • Paul June 18, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    I just love the marriage of maker/hacker and cyclist that is depicted on their website with the Venn Diagram.

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  • Red Five June 18, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    Isn't that the beauty of bikes is that they are silent? This just looks like more noise pollution.

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  • 180mm_dan June 18, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    I like it - something Devo about it...

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  • peder horner June 18, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    looks a bit too, shall i dare say, gimmicky. *shrug*

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  • Matt June 18, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    I think I was actually more impressed by the production quality of the video than I was the actual gizmo.

    Cool idea if the intent had been more as a work of Art, but does a product like this actually improve our lives? I wish people would stop producing more stuff just because it is cool (or because it will make money- doubtful this idea will) and start asking themselves "does this product harm or improve the planet and our lives if I produce it?"

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  • peder horner June 18, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    *concur* Matt

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  • Paul Tay June 19, 2010 at 2:52 am

    Thumbs.....Up! I already have in mind two possible hacks: 1) Sync with visuals/LEDs/Monkey Electric. 2) Activation trigger for airbags in velomobiles.

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  • Doug Klotz June 19, 2010 at 10:50 am

    This sounds like a crutch for unimaginative people who are afraid of silence. Ride, listen and think. Don't force others to listen to your sounds.

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  • bramasoleiowa June 19, 2010 at 10:58 am

    If the horrible electronic sounds on the video are the noises this thing makes.. I have a feeling the anti-bicycle people will come out of the woodwork if this gets popular.
    My opinion: it will drive people nuts, like the whistling mufflers. Worst hipster idea ever. Someone smoked too much weed to think this crap up.

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  • weastsider June 19, 2010 at 11:46 am

    I am glad all the new ideas don't have to be filtered through narrow minds.

    Let the haters keep on hating and the creators keep on creating!

    WTG, I want one!

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  • Peder Horner June 19, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    Ooh, pretty typical. Any criticism is automatically "hate." Talk about narrow-mindedness!

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  • Jeff June 19, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    This is pure douchebaggery at its most extreme. Fully gay.

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  • VTRC June 20, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    "What is that horrible soul destroying sound!?"

    "My commute"

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  • lsab June 25, 2010 at 12:53 am

    way to go! it may not be for everyone, but i think it is cool...i'm glad that people like you are inventing new things instead of waiting for apple to make it popular. nice work...keep it up : )

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