IP network based on xylophones

Posted by Emma Woollacott

A University of California Berkeley researcher has created an IP network that runs between a pair of xylophones.

Stuart Geiger, of the university's Berkeley's School of Information, built the network using two Arduino microcontrollers, some sensors and a pair of xylophones with two people to play them, isolated in cubicles.

The microcontrollers were connected to a series of LEDs, with each one representing a key on the xylophone and a hexadecimal character. When the LED lights up, the xylophone player whacks the corresponding key.

Trough the sensors, the other xylophone is able to detect when a key has been struck on the first one, and then convert it back into hexadecimal.

The downside of the system is its speed. Apparently, IP over Xylophone Players (IpoXP) can only cope with one character per second, giving it a baud rate of, er, one.

"Some users would sit inside and begin dutifully striking keys but would tire before the first packet had been completed keyed – a protracted task requiring 15 minutes of one's time," says Geiger.

And it's not always perfectly accurate, with Geiger commenting: "Humans are really terrible interfaces."

To be fair to the players, though, he had set things up to be as dreary as possible.

"Although we cannot completely control the amount of enjoyment people might experience while playing the IPoXP installation, the intended user experience is meant to be mechanistic and austere. This effect was achieved by limiting the player‟s visibility and movement while using the interface," he says.

"We want the player to see the packets as we imagine computers see them, as unsentimental electrical impulses. We are also hoping that the farrago of notes coming from the xylophone as it is played to add to the sense of dystopia."