IDEO Labs Musical Staircase


Over at IDEO Labs, there is a strong tradition of summer pranks. This year, the interns took it upon themselves to be the masterminds behind a little harmless fun. After some deliberation, they decided on a musical staircase. Inspired by our CEO Nate's work on the Illumitune, this is what they came up with:

The concept behind the musical staircase is fairly simple - use infrared sensors to detect a persons steps at they ascend/descend the staircase. The IR sensors relay the information to an Arduino Mega 2560 which interprets the signals and plays a corresponding sound. Of course, things never seem to go quite as smoothly as anticipated and it took a bit of configuration and work to get the project up and running. The main issue was getting the IR sensors to function reliably, and they ultimately had to upgrade to a slightly more expensive sensor.

In the end, it turned out very well! If you are interested in building you own, check out the project page on the IDEO Labs website. Great work IDEO interns!


Comments 20 comments

  • You could try piezoresistive sensors instead of IR. Then you could adjust for tone of the sound as well. Or another thought would be setup a capacitance touch circuit using the stairs and measure that. With some handy coding you could detect walking up the stairs.

  • Of course, you’d have a heart attack trying to play “Chopsticks”.

  • I like the idea of encouraging people to use the stairs more. This project looks like a lot of fun. There is a similar project by The Fun Theory which you may have already seen.

  • I like this idea. I know a former SFE employee did something similar.
    I work in an office that has a fairly large staircase in the middle, it would be perfect for it.

  • This would make a great intruder alarm. Instead of musical notes, use animal sounds, horns, cartoon character voices.

  • Brilliant!!

  • Reminds me of the project done by Volkswagen as part of their Fun Theory competition back in 2009. http://www.thefuntheory.com/

    • I was one of the ones who built it and we were largely inspired by that video! They used a pressure sensor, though.

  • Why do you replace the IR with piezoresistive sensors instead? You would be able to add tone the sound being played.

  • Nice. Ha ha, it must be loud in there when someone falls down the stairs!

  • Just one word - escalator!

  • It’s funny how some projects seem to be ‘invented’ over and over:
    http://2005to2007.fabrica.it/tuned_stairs/

    • the project on this links ( http://2005to2007.fabrica.it/tuned_stairs/ ) works quite well, the one on the video above does not work @ all, is a cool but very naive idea and approach, the sensors don’t work at all as expected as u can see at some points on the video, where the user has to shake the foot, and they ALWAYS are very near them!
      I know this because I made the same ( wrong ) approach, and it didn’t work AT ALL as expected, if your trying to do a ‘singing’ stairs stay away of this sensors, and follow a “switch” or “height” aproach!
      But it’s a cute project with an aproach… Nice work guys!

      • The video, while nicely shot, is unfortunately not of the final rendition of the stairs. From their website:
        “While in the video, the participants are standing fairly close to the railing to trigger the sensors, we have since improved the threshold for triggering the stairs, which feed into a Processing script that handles the playback of audio. "
        So it sounds like they made some improvements on what you see in the video. But your point stands - it might be a better way to go using a switch or height approach.

        • What I learned with my experience was that the thing about this sensors it’s the angle of the reflection ( that’s why its a poor choice! ). if perpendicular to the stair gets the upper step, if parallel to the step it gets the lower one…

    • Yeah, this project has definitely been done before. But this group did a nice job and they documented their build so you can do it at home if you’d like!


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