Mini Automat: machines for music

Use the real world as your instrument with our robotic MIDI music machine. Beautiful product design, plug & play UX, fully hackable.

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The Mini Automat is a playful way of making music in the real world. We are making a robotic music machine with low latency, velocity control and integration with all major DAWs, including Ableton, Logic and Max. It also works with MIDI hardware including keyboards and sequencers. The Mini Automat is designed for artists and musicians with no technical knowledge but we're also making it fully hackable, with 14 digital pins, 6 analogue pins and compatibility with both Arduino and Circuit Python.

This project is a Dada Machines collaboration between Johannes Lohbihler and Helen Leigh, hardware hackers, musicians and next-door neighbours. Dada Machines is a new open source music tech hardware label based in Berlin, helping creative technologists bring their ideas to market in an environmentally and financially sustainable way. We make things that are perfectly engineered, responsibly manufactured and beautifully designed, both aesthetically and in terms of the user experience.

Music machines for everyone!

The Automat and upcoming Mini Automat are machines for music. The Automat was a successful Kickstarter that shipped last year after raising €150k. This year we are preparing for a new product that will take the idea of accessible music machines to the next level and also make them significantly more affordable without compromising on build quality. 

The original Automat toolkit was about making music machines accessible to every musician, regardless of technical ability. Music machines have existed for a long time, but they have not been easy to use for musicians and artists without specialised technical knowledge or skills. 

Easy to start, endless possibilities

Dada Machines Automat is an easy to use, beautiful robotic music machine designed to be a plug and play experience for musicians. It allows them to interact with the physical world using software and systems they already use in their work. However, we didn't just want to make a closed box product. We are are open source hardware hackers, so it is important to us to leave a welcome mat out for those who want to play with the hardware as well as the machine. As a result we are making the Mini Automat compatible with Arduino and Circuit Python, as well as adding in a clever way to access hidden digital and analogue pins for adding in sensors, buttons and light systems to your music machines.

Documentation is king 

I spend most of my life teaching artists how to use technology in their work. The most successful way to get artists and musicians (and indeed humans in general) working comfortably with new technologies and unfamiliar concepts is having a plug and play out of the box experience with several quick wins. You then follow this early confidence boost by introducing layers of complexity in a project based way. As a result, a huge part of our output for the Automat Mini is the documentation and project support. We are working on a high end project bank and teaching guide that will help the user explore musical machines at a level they are comfortable with.

Sustainable, beautiful design and manufacturing

We are working with high quality, ethical German workshops and factories to manufacture and assemble our products. Sustainability and quality are extremely important to us. The biggest challenge for the new Mini Automat is retaining our fault-free design but significantly reducing the price without compromising on quality or farming out our production.

Open source?

We love open source! We release all of our schematics, firmware and software. We do not (currently) release the board layouts. 

Plans for the future

We are currently extensively user testing the first fully functioning iteration of the new board and system, with artists, hackers, schools and professional and amateur musicians. In tandem we are starting to write up the documentation. We expect to have a final product with full documentation ready for testing in November, with a Kickstarter campaign scheduled for early March 2020.

example set up with accessories.png

This is a set up from a workshop by one our testers and users from the School of Noise

Portable Network Graphics (PNG) - 1.89 MB - 08/25/2019 at 20:54



schematic for the main board

Portable Network Graphics (PNG) - 535.27 kB - 08/25/2019 at 20:02


  • Mini Automat WIP was covered by Hackster!

    Helen Leigh09/05/2019 at 18:16 0 comments

    Pretty cool - we just noticed that Hackster wrote up our project! Here's a snippet of what they wrote....

    "You’ve probably heard people joke that all modern DJs have to do is push the “play” button on a laptop. In most cases, that’s not true — DJs are mixing and creating the music in real-time. But even when it is true, they still put the effort into composing the music at some point. People simply get frustrated because they want to see a performance and not just listen to a recording. One way to achieve that is with visually and auditorily interesting robotic music, and the Dadamachines Automat Toolkit was designed to make that easy."

    Check out the full article by clicking here <3

  • New new new accessories!!!

    Helen Leigh08/25/2019 at 20:50 0 comments

    One of the coolest things we've been working on recently is the new accessory kit! Along with the base unit and the solenoids, the machines will come with an accessory kit to transform the solenoids from just things that push and pull into things that bash, jiggle, smash and trigger mallets. 

    You can then play tambourines, glockenspiels, drums, Club Mate bottles.... or even trigger light strips. We've also been working on the design concept. We have reduced the size of the solenoids because we want the whole kit to be able to be assembled on a standard LEGO baseplate. This keeps the set up minimal and beautiful, as well as playful. 

    With this idea in mind we're also starting to design the casing for the controller. We're still undecided between a milled black metal casing or a silicone casing, but either way we will design it to be able to clip into a LEGO base... or maybe even LEGO compatible wall mounts. 

  • Music Tech residency and working with artists

    Helen Leigh08/25/2019 at 20:40 0 comments

    This summer I was offered the opportunity to be the Artist in Residence at a gallery and technology education space in Helsingor, Denmark. One of the things I'm focussing on is developing the artistic potential of the Mini Automat. I'v.e been doing this in two ways: one by working individually with non technical musicians and seeing how they interact with the machines, and one by teaching groups. As part of my residency I lectured a class of PhD students who have been studying a combination of curation and fine art and asked for their feedback on the music machines. 

    The previous iteration of the machines have been used widely in installations all over the world. I'm a hacker, and making the product hackable is very important to me, but artists and musicians are our primary market. 

    User testing is very important to us. There's no point having a beautiful object with amazing functionality if your users don't understand it! As a result, we have begun to test our products extensively with a wide range of people to make sure it is not only hackable and powerful but intuitive for non technical people to use. 

  • Circuit Python all the things!

    Helen Leigh08/25/2019 at 20:18 0 comments

    I went to Teardown in Portland and took the prototype of the Automat Mini with me to test on other hackers. I was really hoping to get some advice on making it as hackable as possible on as many platforms as possible. I got loads of great tips from people at the conference but the best advice came from Scott Shawcroft (Adafruit). He gave me some amazing advice on redesigning the board so it would support Circuit Python as well as Arduino. 

    The Arduino compatibility is already working well but we also wanted to be able to make it work with Circuit Python. I'm a fan of CP - not only is it a high profile language in the market we're going for, but in my opinion it's the best text-based beginner language out there right now. 

    Scott showed me and (my husband) Drew how to get CP working on the existing board, but then we spoke about some ideas for board revisions that would make it even better, for example swapping out the SAMD21 for a SAMD51 and adding in an SPI flash.

  • Circuit Board back from fab!

    Helen Leigh08/25/2019 at 20:01 0 comments

    We got our first circuit board back from the PCB house and assembled it in our office a couple of weeks back. I've hand soldered a lot of boards but this was my first time using a stencil and a reflow oven. Johannes has made hundreds of PCBs this way though, so he showed me how... very fun! 

    As for the board, welp, it didn't work. After an hour staring at the schematics and poking at the board with a multimeter we figured out that the culprit it was one unconnected ground trace! 

    Once we figured out what was wrong it was an easy fix with an external wire. Result! The test light blinked on! We attached it to six solenoids and hooked it up to my computer, then ran an midi track I'd prepared earlier on Ableton.  

    It totally worked! Woohoo! Next up: testing, revisions, testing, revisions...

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