Project image
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$2,709
pledged of $10,000pledged of $10,000 goal
33
backers
Funding Unsuccessful
The project's funding goal was not reached on Fri, April 25 2014 9:01 PM UTC +00:00
$2,709
pledged of $10,000pledged of $10,000 goal
33
backers
Funding Unsuccessful
The project's funding goal was not reached on Fri, April 25 2014 9:01 PM UTC +00:00

About

The AirHarp is an electronic musical instrument invented by Peter DeSimone that responds to hand gestures, allowing the musician to "strum" invisible harp strings in the air.  Rather than play scales like a normal harp, the AirHarp is designed to play chords, like an autoharp.  The musician selects the desired chord by pressing a combination of buttons with the hand that's holding the instrument, while the empty hand is free to strum chords on a beam of ultrasound.

AirHarp Lira with laser-cut basswood case
AirHarp Lira with laser-cut basswood case

The AirHarp Lira is the latest in a series of AirHarp models designed and built by Peter DeSimone and Erik Jacobson.  It's a MIDI controller instrument, so it doesn't make sound on its own.  Rather, it sends messages to a computer, synthesizer or other device, which in turn creates the actual sound.  Backers are encouraged to familiarize themselves with software synthesis and the use of MIDI controller instruments prior to purchasing an AirHarp Lira.  However we will do our best to assist any customers who have issues setting up software synthesis.  You will need a MIDI cable for use with a keyboard synthesizer, or a MIDI to USB converter cable for use with a computer.  Modern Macintosh computers come with GarageBand pre-installed.  Several free softsynth or "VST" host packages exist for Windows, including Cantabile Lite and SAVIHost.

3D printed ergonomic case by Erik Jacobson
3D printed ergonomic case by Erik Jacobson

Erik has developed a beautiful 3D printable ergonomic enclosure for the AirHarp.  It's very intricate, so unfortunately it only prints well on high-end printers.  We're trying to come up with some way to mass produce his case, or some variant of it, whether by injection molding, stratified laser-cut wood, or some other process.  We have a laser cutter, a 3D printer and a CNC milling machine in-house, so we do possess the means to experiment.

Erik's case open, showing AirHarp guts
Erik's case open, showing AirHarp guts

Erik's case is a clamshell design.  The top and bottom pieces are held together by the mutual attraction of rare earth magnets.  It was designed entirely in AutoCAD.

The AirHarp Lira is powered by a single AA battery.  To power certain onboard systems including the Maxbotix LV-EZ1 ultrasonic rangefinder, the battery's 1.5 volts is stepped up to 5 volts using a dedicated circuit.  Back-bias protection is provided by a diode, and two electrolytic capacitors perform decoupling of power supply noise.  An ATmega328 microcontroller clocked at 16 megahertz via a ceramic resonator decodes user input and encodes MIDI output messages.  The AirHarp Lira is programmable via a standard FTDI serial interface using the Arduino IDE.  Its firmware was written entirely in Arduino C.  It is an Arduino-compatible microcontroller platform with rows of empty I/O pin holes on either side of the chip, specifically to encourage hacking.  Early AirHarps used actual Arduinos; the AirHarp Lira uses a naked chip to save money (doing so saves about $25 per harp!)

We can't guarantee what case design will ship with your AirHarp, since we are still playing around with different options.  You might get a rectangular laser-cut wood case.  You might get an ergonomic polymer case.  You might get an ergonomic wooden case.  We promise to do our best to bring you the most comfortable and aesthetically pleasing case we can make.  Currently, the rectangular laser-cut wood case is our standard model, so we know this design works.  Hopefully we will be successful in mass producing some variant of Erik's ergonomic case.  If not, the rectangular wood case is our emergency fallback.

AirHarp Lira button layout
AirHarp Lira button layout

A number of videos and other resources already exist at AirHarp.com for learning how to play your new AirHarp.  We'll be adding to this repository as often as possible.  The learning curve is definitely much quicker than that of most polyphonic instruments, such as the guitar or piano.  You'll be playing basic 3-chord songs within minutes.

Before long, you'll be playing much more advanced music!

Or if opera isn't you thing, perhaps you'll use your AirHarp to make more modern forms of music.

 Enjoy your new AirHarp!

Peter holding the first AirHarp Lira prototype (sans case)
Peter holding the first AirHarp Lira prototype (sans case)

Production and Fulfillment Plan

First, let's look at what's been done already and what work remains to be done.

Completed:

  • Design, prototype and test electronics.
  • Write and test firmware.
  • Train personnel in proper assembly procedure.
  • Recruit additional qualified assembly personnel in the event that the campaign's success exceeds expectations.
  • Price parts in various quantities. Ensure pledges will cover production costs.
  • Prototype several cases, including laser-cut and 3D printed models.
  • Create web site for project and forum for AirHarp owners.

http://www.airharp.com

https://www.facebook.com/AirharpProject

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1389010188042376/

  • Create instructional videos, a chord guide, a song list and other materials to help AirHarp owners get the most out of their instruments. (We will continue to add to these resources on AirHarp.com long after the Kickstarter campaign has ended).
  • Open source all electronic diagrams and firmware source code, in the spirit of the movement that made the AirHarp possible.
  • Secure a registered trademark on the name "AirHarp" to protect the brand against potential dilution by inferior knockoff products.

To Do:

  • Develop an improved case. The goal is an ergonomic case that's cost-effective to produce en masse. The laser-cut case is cost-effective. The 3D printed case is ergonomic. It should be possible to combine the best attributes of each to produce an affordable ergonomic case for our backers. How do we propose to do this? We have several ideas. Experimentation may be required to determine which method is best.
    1) We are developing new laminated wood case designs inspired by Erik's ergo case (resembling a mix of the current laser-cut and printable cases).  This is a technology we understand, so the odds of success on this front are high.  In our estimation, this is the most likely route we will take on the production case.
    2) Time permitting, we would also like to play around with making molds produced from CNC machining and/or 3D printing to make our own cast polymer or silicone case.  We'll also investigate the economic viability of having cases fabricated by a company that specializes in such work.
    3) Depending on funding level, we'll investigate upgrading to a more capable 3D printer that might actually be up to the task of producing the quantity and quality of cases desired.
    4) Time and budget permitting, we would like to acquire an electric melting furnace and experiment with casting aluminum cases. Peter was trained in investment casting at New Mexico Tech and is eager to explore the viability of various casting methods for this project.  This is a "long shot" and is probably less likely to result in a practical case than previous methods... but we still want to try it!
Proof that Peter can do investment casting.
Proof that Peter can do investment casting.
  • As previously stated, if we fail to produce a viable ergonomic case by these experimental methods, our emergency fallback option is to use the laser-cut wood case we've already developed (or a tweak thereof, possibly with rounded corners and finger grooves). We promise to do our best to deliver a quality case that everyone will love!
  • Order all parts necessary to assemble the batch, utilizing quantity discounts. Circuit boards also fall under this category.
  • Begin assembly of the instruments. We currently have three people trained in assembling AirHarps specifically. If each person builds just one AirHarp per day on average, a batch of 100 could be completed in about a month. Peter also has several engineering school friends who have pledged to support the assembly effort. If even more assemblers are required, they will be recruited from the New Mexico Tech engineering program and paid commensurate with their skilled labor.
  • Ship the instruments out to backers as we build them.

We believe the timeline of events will look something like this:

March 25: Work begins on production "ergo" case.

April 1: Campaign is approved by Kickstarter staff and goes live.

April 1-30: Work continues on ergo case while campaign proceeds. Extent of backing may inform the route taken; the greater the funding, the more options become available to us.

May 1: Campaign is finished. Funding is secured. Parts are immediately ordered.

May 1-7: While waiting for parts, work on ergo case continues if necessary.

May 7: Parts should be received by now; assembly begins.

May 7-July 7: Assembly continues. Harps ship as they are assembled (once they have passed rigorous quality control testing).

July 21: All domestic (U.S.) backers have received their harps.

Aug 21: All international backers have received their harps (hopefully - we can't control Customs! Sometimes they delay packages by up to a month...)

Risks and challenges

Fortunately, most of the R&D work on this project has already been completed and we know from experience that the AirHarp Lira is a solid and functional design. However, we've never done a production run of 100+ harps before, so unforeseen obstacles could arise.

Possible problems:
* Our CO2 laser tube could burn out in the middle of cutting a batch of cases. Fortunately, it's user-replaceable, so a week or two and $100-$300 later, we'd be back online.
* We could experience an availability problem with any of the components. If that happens, we'll seek alternative sources, and in a worst-case scenario (e.g. the part has been discontinued and isn't available anywhere), we'll do a total or partial redesign to use different components.
* If we get a batch of bad circuit boards from our manufacturer, we'll insist on returning them. If they refuse, we'll burn down their offices (kidding...) and then take our business to one of their competitors, absorbing the cost of a 2nd run.
* One of our circuit assemblers could fall ill or be otherwise incapacitated in a freak gasoline fight accident. We have three people trained and ready to build, so it would just mean more work for the remaining two.
* If we somehow exceed our goal by a wide margin, we will definitely need help assembling, programming and testing harps. Peter knows many qualified Electrical Engineering majors at New Mexico Tech, so finding young talent shouldn't be a problem.

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Support

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 1 or more About US$ 1.00

    You'll receive a huge THANK YOU and be listed in a roster of backers on the AirHarp.com web site! (You may opt out of being listed if you prefer to remain anonymous).

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    10 backers
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  2. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 100 or more About US$ 100

    One AirHarp Lira MIDI controller instrument. The AirHarp Lira is an ultrasonic digital autoharp that outputs note on/off messages via the MIDI standard. To use this instrument, you will need a synthesizer with MIDI input, or a computer, iPad or other device with a MIDI interface and software synthesis installed. We will attempt to help our backers with setup questions to the best of our abilities, but ideally you should be familiar with MIDI and software synthesis prior to purchasing an AirHarp.

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    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    16 backers
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  3. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 150 or more About US$ 150

    Same as the $100 pledge; you'll get a brand new AirHarp Lira, but we'll also throw in a quality USB MIDI cable proven to work with your new harp, allowing you to control softsynths on any modern Mac or Windows computer.

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    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    Limited 6 backers
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Funding period

- (30 days)