Friday, July 18, 2014

Electronic Light Orchestra: The Humboldt Laser Harp Project Launches! Part 1.

Yay! The Humboldt Laser Harp microcontroller (MCU) project officially launched today. This Part 1 post about the project will give a short introduction, then I'll cover some more of the details in tomorrow's post.

Ever since the Humboldt Microcontrollers Group was started back in May of this year, I've wanted to have a couple people from the Group get together and collaborate on an MCU project. It didn't matter too much what it was, I just wanted to get the example and tradition of people coming up with a project, designing the hardware and software, figuring out how to get the components and other resources need to build the project, then debugging the first version and making iterative improvements until we had a pretty cool or interesting result.
Laser harp designed for crowd interaction

As I've written this blog and during the biweekly Humboldt Microcontrollers Group meetings, I've been suggesting various topics to try and get a couple people interested in one of them to the point where a project group (even just two people) would form. What I was sort of doing was throwing MCU projects against the kitchen cupboards or wall(?) like spaghetti to see if they'd stick. And one finally stuck -- at least to the point where three of us met today to determine if we wanted to actually start working together on an MCU project. And the answer to that question was, "Yes."

Laser harp with PVC pipe frame
So, I'd like to introduce you to the Humboldt Laser Harp (HLH). It is the first MCU electronic musical instrument in the Electronic Light Orchestra of Humboldt County. Maybe we should call it the Humboldt Electronic Light Orchestra (HELO) so people don't get us confused with the band ELO (Electric Light Orchestra). I'll go into more detail about why the 'light orchestra' part of the name will be appropriate when I post Part 2 or Part 3 of this series. I'll also mention other possible MCU musical instruments for the Electronic Light Orchestra, some of which have been in previous posts.

If you're reading this post and are not familiar with laser harps, take a look at my post from June titled, "Microcontrollers And A Humboldt Laser Harp." If you don't want to read that, just look for  laser harp  on Google and on YouTube.

Here are a few of the basic facts of the project:

Makezine laser harp (
  • Right now there are three of us on the project: Ed Smith, Nick A, and Bob Waldron.
  • As the project develops, Hal W and others might join in on the project.
  • Ed is the lead for code and basic project design. For most questions about the project, Ed is the gatekeeper. [July 19 update: the best way to contact Ed about the project is to talk to him in person at one of the Humboldt Microcontrollers Group meetings. If you can't do that, email him at bobnova (at) humboldtmicro {dott} com.]
  • Nick is the lead person for building the harp frame.
  • The HLH v.1.0 will reside at Nick's house.
  • I'm going to sketch up some type of a black mini 'booth' or covering designed to help see the laser beams when the laser harp is not in a darkened room.
  • As indicated above, we'll use GitHub for the code repository and versioning, and for remote project collaboration. We discussed other options, such as DropBox, Google Docs, Texas Instruments Energia, or other services Ed might prefer that Nick and I are also ok with. Ed didn't have a strong preference, and Nick like's GitHub, so that's what we using, at least for now.
  • The project will be open source, both software and hardware, to the extent possible. The parts that aren't truly open source will be transparent as far as all the code and components being identified. If someone else wants to replicate what we've done, they'll be welcome to do so. (Of course, we might change our tune when someone offers us a lot of money to buy our ideas, laser harps or other MCU electronic musical instruments...)
  • Bob will work with Josh Cowles or others to figure out the appropriate open source licenses to put on the pieces of this project that can accurately be called open source.
  • We're probably going to have six lasers in version 1.0 of the HLH, but we'll think about MCU and other hardware capabilities in terms of being able to easily expand the design to a twelve laser harp and put in hooks or code blocks that make it easy to convert the programs from six-laser to a twelve-laser design.
  • Nick will put a post about the project on the Humboldt Makers Google Group mailing list, and possibly on online sites that could give the project favorable visibility.
A true laser 'harp'
In tomorrow's post, I'll cover some of the other details discussed in today's meeting. If you have questions or comments about the HLH, send them to me at arcatabob (at) gmail {dott} com.

If you know of other people in Humboldt County who have already built a laser harp or who play a laser harp, please share their contact info with me, or at least their name. We'd love to connect and talk laser harp technology with them.

We look forward to a long and illustrious career for the Electronic Light Orchestra of Humboldt!


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