Australian robot plays the fiddle on European stage

Wins second place in orchestra contest

Australia may boast great cultural icons like the Sydney Harbour Bridge but now the local ICT research community has developed an icon of its own, a robot that plays the violin.

Dubbed RoboFiddler, this isn't just any robot. This sophisticated robot last week won second place in the inaugural Artemis Orchestra contest in Berlin.

Based on the longstanding European traditions in music, the contest challenges participants to create devices which play real musical instruments with the help of embedded technologies.

RoboFiddler, who was sponsored by Australia's ICT research institute, NICTA, performed two pieces: the traditional piece 'Soldier's Joy' and the first part of Book one of German composer Hans Sitt's 100 Etudes, Op.32

The aim of the Artemis Orchestra competition is to demonstrate the creative capabilities of embedded systems to the general public through enabling robots to play musical instruments.

The RoboFiddler system (which has its origins in a project conducted last year by University of Adelaide's mechatronics engineering students Yee Chia, Boon Hong, Chin Lee and Beinjy Lim), links a conventional laptop computer to a micro controller that controls both the robotic bow arm and a series of six metal 'fingers' that allow 28 notes to be played across the four strings.

Tunes to be played by the RoboFiddler can be entered on a host computer and downloaded to the microcontroller-based robot.

The central controller communicates with the host, downloading whichever note needs to be played next. It then relays this information to the fingering controller, carefully coordinating all required motions such as fingering, bowing and tilting the main arm.

Programming is based on Metrowerks CodeWarrior and Matlab 6.5.

"It is a complex system because the bow needs to be told not only which string to play, but at what angle and speed to play to ensure a clean sound," according to Professor Colin Hansen, head of the university's school of mechanical engineering.

"The result is not up to orchestra standard, but it is an impressive piece of engineering."

NICTA CEO, Dr David Skellern, was thrilled with the result especially as the competition attracted entries from leading embedded systems teams across Europe.

"I think they were a crowd favourite!" Skellern said after attending the event.

The RoboFiddler team received a trophy and 9000 Euro prize.

The winner of the competition was a team from Germany which demonstrated a recorder player with timing that followed a conductor as well as a piano player.

RoboFiddler shared equal second place with a Finnish team that designed a flute-playing robot.

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