Networked Smart Musical Toys

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The goal of this project is to allow children of a wide range of ages to interact, make, share, and learn with music without the barriers presented with traditional music making instruments. We want to immerse children to as wide a range of sounds and music making opportunities as soon and as quickly as possible. Traditional musical instruments require students to learn interfaces based on the instruments method of producing sound. It’s a difficult and generally time consuming process which delays the musical experience. With digital music these kind of constraints need not be as apparent, we can introduce more immediate and natural means of expression. Whether they use there feet, wave their arms, roll a ball, or shake a shaker, this project allows children to experience creating music and sound with the means they are most familiar with.

Generally a parent or teacher might slowly introduce sounds, rhythm, musicality, etc of increasing complexity and variety over the course of a child’s physical and mental development. You might start with your voice and hands. Later you would introduce small percussion instruments. As a child gets older she/he would be introduced to melodic instruments and the discipline of learning to make sound with these instruments. Children are naturally curious about sound and are intensely creative. Networked Smart Musical Toys can provide the opportunity to experience an endless range of sound, provide new means of expression, and allow family members across great distances to be a part of these events.

Lastly, why can’t we share these musical performance, these real time compositions, with family and friends effortlessly over the Internet.

What it is
This toy consists of a set top box and large number of independent wireless tangible musical devices. The set-top box connects to a T.V., stereo, and the Internet. Internet access is provided by a wireless connection to an existing WLAN. The set top box runs software that allows access and interaction between a library of music and sound and a large number of connected tangible devices. These devices come in a variety of forms: simple tap pads, balls that you can roll and shake, and wands are a few examples. All of these devices have the ability to connect wirelessly with the host (the set top box). The set-top box connects to the internet to allow for further sound and music download and for the ability to share the results with family.

How it works
Designed to keep all interaction as simple as possible the system and devices are wireless and require no set-up. A very simple screen based menu allows for optional configuration and is controlled by a simple remote. The musical toys themselves require no instruction and are ready to be used as soon as they are turned on. Current prototypes use Bluetooth to connect all the devices to the set-top box and a 802.11b wireless card to connect to a WLAN.

Value/Potential
A device and service that allows children allows children to experience music in a natural immediate way without the limitations inherent with traditional musical instruments and with the ability to share the results via the internet this system should prove to be a viable technology prototype if not product.