MIT Media Lab has always been at the forefront of designing world-class and innovative musical instruments, from FabricKeyboard in 2017 to KnittedKeyboard in 2020. But with a positive response from the community and technological advancements, the researchers have again developed the next version of thier KnittedKeyboard. Made out of fabric, it provides tactile experiences for new interactions and musical expressions that can be rolled up and easily carried.
Due to the deformable tactile properties of knitted textiles, this tactile-based musical interface has a layout of a wearable keyboard, extending its functionalities. The four layers of the KnittedKeyboard II are conductive pocket knit, polyester base knit, conductive knit, and piezo-resistive knit. Using digital knitting technology, the individual and combination of piano-patterned keys can sense various inputs like touch, continuous proximity, stretch, and pressure.
“The KnittedKeyboard II combines both discrete controls from the conventional keystrokes and expressive continuous controls from the non-contact theremin-inspired proximity sensors by waving and hovering on the air, as well as unique physical interactions enabled by the integrated fabric sensors (e.g. squeezing, pulling, stretching, and twisting)," the team writes.
Understanding the sensing mechanism, which is based on capacitive and piezo-resistive sensing. As every key behaves as an electrode, the electromagnetic field created can be disrupted with touch or even non-contact proxemic gestures like hovering or waving on the air. On the other hand, the piezo-resistive sensing is under the conductive knit, which measures pressure and stretch exerted on the knitted keyboard.
Taking all this data, the microprocessor then converts it into musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) messages. With such projects coming to light, it gives technology a boost to showcase its vision of seamless fabric-based interactive surfaces. These projects are not only music controllers but smart devices that are wearable with a unique mechanical structure. With technological exploration, research to work on soft and malleable gestural interfaces is more to come.
But with this, it is important to note that such products will not hit the retail market soon. It would be interesting to look out for further upgrades and prototypes.