The KnittedKeyboard Plays and Sounds Like a Traditional Keyboard But Is Made of Fabric

Could MIT Media Lab's project usher in a new era for instruments?

Cabe Atwell
2 months agoSensors / Communication
The keyboard is comprised functional (conductive, thermochromic, and composite) yarns with non-functional (spandex and high-flex polyester) yarns. (📷: Andreas Eggenberger)

In 2017, MIT Media Lab’s Irmandy Wicaksono created the FabricKeyboard, a keyboard made of fabric that responds to your touch and can easily be rolled up for transportation. Wanting to take advantage of new technologies in computerized knitting, Wicaksono recently designed the second iteration of the instrument called the KnittedKeyboard.

The KnittedKeyboard is made of a mix of functional fibers — conductive, thermochromic, and composite threads — and non-functional yarns — spandex and high-flex polyester. It uses a sensing mechanism based on capacitive and piezoresistive sensing technology. This allows the keyboard to detect contact touch and gestures, such as hovering or waving your hand. You can play the keyboard by applying pressure to the keys with touch and hovering your hand in the proximity of the device.

The piezoresistive layer measures the forced placed on the keyboard. There’s even a color-changing display that notes the contact and non-contact modes of play. The data picked up from the sensors is then converted to MIDI files by a central microprocessor, which can be sent to a computer via USB. Audio software, like Ableton Live, can then map the MIDI messages to the appropriate channels, notes, and controls.

MIT Media Lab believes the prototype is an ideal way to show how electronics can be integrated with fabrics using weaving and knitting methods. Typically, components are attached to the fabric, but this limits opportunities for large scale manufacturing, commercializing, and prototyping.

Surprisingly, the keyboard actually works, though it sounds more like a synthesizer. Still, it’s impressive; you’d never guess it’s made of fabric. So, what’s the next step? While you shouldn’t expect to find the KnittedKeyboard on the consumer market soon, the researchers hope the prototype will open more discussions about how smart textiles and normal fibers can be used. They think the technology could be useful for health monitoring, space research, rehabilitation, and sports science

The KnittedKeyboard was presented at ETH Zurich’s Rethinking Creativity Pavilion in Davos during the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2020.

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