Over the next few posts I will document our efforts building a Bodhrán that will be played using a number of solenoids and motors controlled by the musicians eyes.


The goal of this project is to enable a young man with a significant disability play the Bodhrán and ultimately accompany a group of traditional musicians. This goal can be achieved by supplementing the users own technology (Windows based computer with eyegaze input) with a range of open source (where possible) hardware and software that will allow him both compose beats and control various parameters of the playback in real time using his eyes. The physical playing of the Bodhrán will be achieved using a range of solenoids and actuators controlled by a microprocessor (Arduino).   If this project can be realised within the timeframe we propose having its inaugural performance on International Day of People with Disability whose theme this year is Sustainable Development: The Promise of Technology. We believe this project clearly outlines the promise of technology while if it can be achieved using open source hardware and software, points to the possibility of advanced bespoke Assistive Technology (AT) solutions being created locally within the users’ community through partnerships like IADT and Enable Ireland. That is the wider theory being proposed by this project, the future of the more specialist kinds of AT, particularly those that enable creativity or leisure which are perhaps seen as less necessary by cash strapped funding bodies,  might be through open source solutions produced and supported at a local level.

Technical Details – Thoughts and ideas

This project will have two strands. First the interface that will allow the user to program and control the drum will need to be decided upon and secondly the hardware for physically playing the instrument will need to be built.

User Interface and Sequencer

The particular user we have in mind is a skilled eyegaze user and so designing an interface that can be controlled using this form of input is preferable. Thankfully it is also one of the more achievable methods of control. In order for the user to have the maximum amount of creative expression available to them while also making a solution that is easily played by someone with limited physical access an approach using a combination of composition and live performance should be used. A sequencer will allow the user to build their beats in their own time in advance of a performance. This will allow them choose the rhythm time, where to place accents etc. They could create a bank of beats that they can easily navigate to and load when needed. This sequencer could be built in Pure Data (PD) or we could just adapt one that has already been made. The actual interface the user would interact with will sit over the PD sequencer and could be made a number of ways. Perhaps the easiest way would be to create it using The Grid 2 from Sensory Software as this is the software the user currently uses for communication, computer access etc. Although if the time and resources were available a bespoke interface designed using Processing or something like NexusUI would probably provide greater usability. The performance aspect of the drum would allow the user real time control over the playback of the pre composed beats. Speed and tone could be controlled using sliders or another matrix type interface. They could also drop in fills from another premade bank of beats. The quantisation of the fills could be set by the user to find the right balance between usability and expression.

Drum Bot

The hardware element of the project would consist of a number of solenoids and motors driven either by an Arduino or by something purpose built and sold in kit form like the Midi Switcher or the MidiTron. The positioning of the solenoids and movement of the motors would be decided in consultation with experienced Bodhrán players but the general idea would have two positioned somewhere off centre of the drum with possibly the ability to reposition them with a motor. There would be another solenoid placed at the frame for rim-shots and there would need to be some kind of actuator mechanism for dampening and changing tone through contact with the skin of the drum, acting as the left (or right) hand of a player.

Background – Similar Projects and inspiration