If you hang around primates with opposable thumbs long enough you’ll run into a tool. It’s not just us smart monkeys. Tool use is widespread throughout the animal kingdom among birds and beasts. Tools get things done. Elephants modify branches to use as fly swatters. Sea otters use stones as hammers. Octopi use coconut shells as armor. Birds craft twigs into tools. But there is something unique about the way we humans use tools. We don’t just swat flies, we innovate and we invent. As an illustration, I will show you how microcontrollers helped re-invent the guitar.
Invention is the process of creative problem solving. We have all heard the old saw that 'necessity is the mother of invention.' That’s certainly necessary, but not quite sufficient. There are three conditions required to come up with an invention: There is a real need, you have a competent person with the right tools and technology, and you have the money or other resources required to make it happen.
In the past, the tools were limited to hammer and chisel, saw and blade. Today, it is often the wherewithal to manage electrons and photons. This is where two companies like ARM and Freescale find such great common ground. ARM designs highly capable processors, in particular the Cortex family that forms the core (ahem) of Freescale Kinetis architecture. We add our own layers of enablement, particularly software and development tools, as well as enabling the vast ARM ecosystem to work with Kinetis microcontrollers as a particular flavor of the ARM Cortex-M4 processor. We have other ARM processors in our portfolio and more will follow.
We then get that fantabulous power into the hands of creative people, who see a need and out pops…. all kinds of great things, but here’s one of them: A guitar pickguard, from Eli Hughes, made for the Freescale Kinetis Make It Challenge (Figure 1).
Figure 1. A digital pickguard with a radically new way to sense the strings and manipulate the output.
Oh, but this is so much more than just a pickguard. This is way cool. Take a look see at Eli playing guitar and explaining a bit about his invention in the video below. Because invention this truly is.
Eli has outlined his journey on his own website. You can follow Eli’s path from frustration with the “ancient” technology in electric guitars to excitement with the dynamics of a non-linear musical instrument and see the promise that new approaches to digital sound can bring to a venerable instrument.
Take that passion, toss in a little financial kick from the Freescale Make It Challenge and add a great ARM core with DSP power… and you get, in Eli’s own words “all the features I needed for this entire project on a single chip.” If you pay attention and watch the deep dive video at the link above, you’ll realize this isn’t just audio filtering we’re talking about here.
Eli has re-invented the electric guitar.
Magnetic sensors, the fundamental basis of the instrument, are gone. Piezoelectric sensors tied to a Cortex-M4 processor in the form of the Freescale Kinetis K40 are doing all the work. That and the capability to generate new and unique tones from the instrument are all neatly tucked into the pickguard. In a word, WOW!
It should come as no surprise that many of our customers – software and hardware engineers – are also musicians, sculptors, photographers, actors. You can’t be inventive without being creative. You can’t keep these people down. Ideas spring from them in all kinds of fields. It is a genuine honor and privilege to work to enable their ideas. I get to play with these people and this is why I love my job.
Guest Partner Blogger:
Freescale Embedded Beat blogging community.
ARM welcomes its wealth of Partners in the ARM Connected Community (CC) to submit guest blogs to be published on our multiple community blogs. If interested in participating please submit email inquiries to Tell.Us@arm.com.
The ARM Connected Community (CC) is an extensive ecosystem covering all aspects of ARM processor-based design, from chip implementation through to system and device design. The CC provides a platform for collaborative innovation, with multiple types of forums for members to work with one another, and with customers, to solve industry challenges, all with the purpose of enabling designers to focus on differentiating features and an accelerated time-to-market for ARM powered solutions.
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