It has been a long time since I updated my journal with documentation regarding Air-Mashup, the new DJ tool I designed as part of NIME. The development process for this project was challenging, sometimes frustrating, and ultimately very fulfilling. It was by far the most complex physical computing device I have ever built. It forced me to stretch my abilities in realms of physical prototyping and software development.
Today I will focus on the iterative prototyping process I used to develop this project. Between the early October and mid-December I developed 5 different sets of physical prototypes and too many iterations of the code to count. Here is an overview of all my prototypes along with an outline of the software development challenges I encountered.
The first prototype focused on testing the design of the structure that holds the proximity sensor and was constructed out of hand-cut pieces of foam core. It featured the proximity sensor and a laser light. In this phase of the design process I was able to identify the appropriate height for the “barrier” that ensures one’s hands do not come to close to the proximity sensor. This is important because the sensors effective range starts a few inches away from the sensor itself.
The second prototype focused on testing the design of the control panel that enables users to control clips, loops, headphone monitoring, and filter sends. This prototype was developed using laser-cut pieces of foam core. This phase of the design process enabled me to identify several issues with the placement of the buttons. It also led me to re-evaluate the overall design of the piece, since I was unhappy with the large and clunky feel of this box.
The third prototype was an utter failure. My focus at this stage was on testing a new approach for the design of control panel and the encasing for the proximity sensor. I decided to create this prototype using wood since I had a plank of basswood lying around. This was a mistake, I realized that it is always better to continue prototyping using easier to handle materials until the design is more developed. This piece went straight from the laser cut machine to the garbage.
With the fourth prototype I was able to get back on track. My focus at this stage was still on testing a new approach for the design of the control panel and the encasing for the proximity sensor. This prototype was constructed out of laser cut watercolor board. This material is made of cardboard-like paper that is thicker and harder then foam core. This build helped me identify the final tweaks I needed to incorporate into the design of the control panel. It also led me to the inspiration to merge all of the control panels but to separate out components that hold each individual the proximity sensors.
The final prototype is by far more complex than any of my previous builds. I went from working on a single control panel/proximity sensor combo to building out four integrated control panel/proximity sensor components. At this point in time I needed to finalize the physical prototype so that I could start preparing for the NIME performance. It took me several weeks to build this prototype: I had to order over 100 components and solder them (and often re-solder them) together to build the circuits; then I had to laser cut over 50 pieces of wood and plexi to construct the boxes. As can be expected, it took me much longer to build this prototype than any of the others. Here is a slideshow features pictures of the final prototypes and the build process.