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Control audio with movements and gestures in free space

What is Vectr?

The Hackme Vectr is an entirely new and unique way to interact with hardware. Vectr is a three dimensional control interface designed for Eurorack modular system. It senses the location of a hand over its face and outputs a signal proportional to position for each axis: x (left and right), y (up and down), and z (in and out). So, you can control three things at one time, like turning three knobs all at once by moving your hand through the air. The possibilities are truly infinite. You could control the amplitude of a sound with the x axis, the pitch with the y axis, and the modulation of that sound with the z axis. By moving your hand slowly over the surface, you can create subtly evolving, changing and dramatic sounds. With quick movements, you can generate bursts of dynamic audio.

Vectr can record up to 30 seconds of position and gesture data for playback. Simply press the large illuminated switch to start recording and release it to stop. The playback can be one-shot or looping. Playback can be retriggered with swipe gestures or by external signals from a module with trigger outputs. Vectr records as long as the switch is held down, so long rhythmic sequences can be recorded by moving a hand in an out of the active area. The record switch can also be used as a track and hold control. When pressed quickly, it freezes the hand position to lock in the output. Playback can be sped up or slowed by using circular gestures, clockwise for faster, counter-clockwise for slower. Recording can also be triggered externally. One pulse starts the recording and the next pulse ends it. Using external triggers to start and stop recording as well as to synchronize the playback, you can make perfectly synchronized loops.

To provide feedback, Vectr has LEDs ringing its active sensing area. These LEDs light up according to the location of your hand. It lights red for the z axis and blue for the x and y axis. As you get closer to the surface, the red LEDs get brighter. As you move closer to a location on the x-y axis, the blue LEDs in that region get brighter and those farther away get dimmer. This makes Vectr visually stunning, brilliant for live play and, excellent for dark spaces. 

Vectr can also recognize a number of simple gestures. It recognizes swiping gestures as well as circular motions over its surface. These gestures can be used as trigger outputs and for interacting with the built-in looping feature. Vectr provides a menu system that uses gestures to change the system behavior. 

Not into modular synthesizers? Vectr is entirely open source. All aspects of the design, including hardware design files and software source code, will be released under cc-nc-sa 2.0 license. There will be a USB connector on the back of the device. This will allow anyone to program and reprogram Vectr to suit their purposes. Want to use it to fly drones? Make a lighting controller? Make your robot dance? Go for it.

 Design Story

We are all familiar with the vision of the future where we interact with computers by moving naturally in free space. Well, it has arrived. As soon as the gestural technology behind Vectr was announced, I knew that I wanted to explore the possibility of employing it to bring futuristic interaction to the audio hardware world. I began by envisioning a standalone device with a deep feature set, but decided to limit the scope of this design to the core functionality. This allowed me to focus on developing a device using this central technology, leaving the synthesis aspects to proven designs for the time being. I developed a breadboard prototype with development boards and learned the technology. 

Gesture Controller Prototype Innards
Gesture Controller Prototype Innards

I've been consistently amazed with the accuracy and fluidity of the interaction, losing hours of time, just playing with it, but I decided to add more performance elements, like the looping feature, and a visual element with the LEDs. 

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These are the killer features that push the design from novel interface to unique sonic tool. For the studio user, Vectr provides an avenue for quickly creating dynamic sounds. For the live performer, Vectr makes tweaking parameters a visual performance event. Turning knobs gets the job done, but moving glowing hands makes it a performance! 

How does it work?

Vectr works by generating an electrical field and sensing changes in it causes by the proximity of your hand. Think of it as a smartphone screen with an added dimension of depth four to five inches from the surface. The system uses six electrodes to form the active sensing area. The sensing electrodes are part of the circuit board which lays just behind the piece of acrylic. 

Vectr contains a microcontroller which decodes the position information and relays the decoded information to digital-to-analog converters which pass through analog circuitry on their way to the outputs. These outputs are scaled linearly corresponding to the sensed hand position with one output for each cartesian coordinate: x, y and z. 

Vectr contains thirty-six LEDs  which ring the perimeter of the active area to generate an enclosed lighting space. Each LED's brightness is individually controlled to provide the visual feedback.

Vectr includes the necessary hooks for future directly-connected expansion modules with features like: MIDI, synthesis, filtering, and more. This Vectr module will form the basis for a new line of products. The first planned system expansion module will be MIDI with MIDI-over-USB. It will allow for sending the position, gesture, and gate information over MIDI.

Detailed Features

Resolution: 16 bit Sensing and 16 bit Digital to Analog Conversion

Outputs:

  • X Position - 0-8VDC corresponding to hand position
  • Y Position - 0-8VDC corresponding to hand position
  • Z Position - 0-8VDC corresponding to hand position
  • Left-Right Swipe Gesture Trigger -  0-5VDC alternates with each gesture
  • Up-Down Swipe Gesture Trigger - 0-5VDC alternates with each gesture
  • Gate - 0V when no hand is present, 5VDC  when a hand is present

Inputs:

  • X Gate - 0V turns off X Position
  • Y Gate - 0V turns off Y Position
  • Z Gate - 0V turns off Z Position
  • Loop Sync - Retriggers the loop during playback, start and end loop during record mode

Switch:

  • Loop switch - High quality feel illuminated switch for controlling the looping feature

Power Supply:

  • +/-12V, digital voltages internally regulated

Eurorack Width:

  • 36HP Prototype (Production Goal: 32HP)

Feature Requests

The video and pictures show a fully functional proof of concept. But, the final circuit board has yet to be completely laid out.  There's time left for your input and feedback. We can still integrate a whole host of desired features before the design is set. 

We've already received a number of feasible feature requests that depending on popularity will be implemented in these units:

  • Loop Storage and Recall
  • Variable or Different Voltage Output Range (+/-5V, 0-2V, +/-2V)
  • Quantized or Scaled Output

Schedule

Taking your voice into account, we'll be working on the boards while the project is running on Kickstarter. We'll wrap them toward the end of the project. At that time, with the funds from Kickstarter, we'll order the components and get manufacturing set up and ready to go. Given component lead times and minor delays, we should be able to hit the following schedule:

  • Kickstarter Project - December 10th,2013 - January 10th,2013
  • PCB complete and Tested - January 31st
  • Order Production Components - January 31st
  • Components Received - April 15th
  • Production Begins - April 15th
  • Shipping Begins - April 30th

Where Do the Pledges Go?

The pledges will support final development costs and prototyping, the purchase of components for the units, and the cost of manufacturing.

Shoutouts and Thanks

Thank you to everyone who contributed thoughts and ideas to this project, especially my wife for tolerating my incessant electronics jibber jabber. Thanks to Justin for so much help and for being a sounding board throughout the development.

Audio and Video props to Jef Green. Find him at fejneerg@gmail.com

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

There are challenges in translating the prototype into production form, like properly calibrating the sensing and incorporating all desired features. Circuit boards often contain errors, no matter how hard you work to eliminate them. Spinning a new circuit board and getting it built generally takes several weeks. Fortunately, this design involves a lot of software, which is endlessly changeable up until the beginning of production. The possibility for delays based on component availability always exists, but standard production timelines have been factored into the schedule.

FAQ

Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.

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