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Robotic arm creates paintings based on piano's notes at Lynchburg market

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In downtown Lynchburg, music is not only being heard from Community Market’s Hill City Keys piano — it’s being seen as well.

Over the past month, Vector Space co-founder and director of education Adam Spontarelli built a 3-D printed robotic arm to create what he calls piano art. The contraption made its debut Saturday.

Attached to the piano is a microphone that detects the notes played. That information is transmitted via Wi-Fi to a receiver at the Academy Center of the Arts down the street from the market.

The 3-D arm was created and programmed to move and drop paint onto canvas — according to the notes played.

“The piano will always be listening and recording what people are playing and transmitting that data to this robotic arm,” Spontarelli said. “These are all things that anyone could make.”

For example, if someone plays an “A” chord on any octave, the elbow of the arm will move clockwise and drop one of four colors (yellow, red, blue and green) on the canvas. If a “B” chord is played, the elbow will move counterclockwise.

“The pump draws the paint through the tubing and onto the canvas,” he said.

The project was funded by a $1,200 grant from the city’s Arts and Culture grant fund. Vector Space, based in downtown Lynchburg, is a nonprofit “makerspace” for people interested in so-called STEAM fields — science, technology, engineering, art and math — to collaborate, invent, discover and build the things that interest them.

Vector Space has been in talks with the Academy for more than a year trying to determine how to combine art and engineering.

Evan Smith, director of outreach at the Academy, said there are a lot of things coming out of STEAM in the city and that the piano art is a great opportunity for the two organizations to collaborate.

“This shows how the arts and science can work together to create something exciting,” he said. “The community can see something exciting and what we can do when we work together.”

He added he hopes the Academy continues to work with Vector Space in the future on more projects.

“We’re excited to keep this going with them, and we’re happy to be able to do something this interesting over the summer,” he said.

Libby Fitzgerald, founder of Hill City Keys, said she doesn’t know much about the technological side of the project but that she is happy to see one of the seven pianos downtown being used for something different.

“All along I’ve been trying to come up with programming around the piano other than random people playing, which is great and I love it, but beyond that, what else can we do for programming?” she said.

She said the project adds to the usage of the pianos in a variety of ways.

“I can’t even conceive how this works, but I’m curious to see,” she said. “I’m fascinated to know how it will work and am happy as can be the pianos are being used for it.”

Spontarelli said he hopes the project will spark questions from residents about engineering and inventions.

“We’re trying to show that learning and being creative and doing challenging and ambitious things is rewarding and worthwhile,” he said. “The point of this project is to get people interested in these things.”

He is encouraging people to sit down at the piano and play a song and then pull up their phone and watch the robotic arm on a livestream that Vector Space has set up on its blog, then go down to the Academy and see what they have created.

Although he has tested the project at his home, Spontarelli admitted that he was not sure what would happen after it’s set up for everyone to use.

“It’s relatively erratic,” he said. “I have no idea. I honestly have no idea.”


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