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Bennett's Remember-It-All

Spheres that convert color to musical notes and vice versa.

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Spheres that convert color to musical notes and vice versa. Spheres can be docked in a base for playback of recorded color patterns / music, charging, and sharing data via the web.

An old school friend’s son, Bennett, is losing his eyesight. Ben was born at 23 weeks gestation, which is way too early, in case you were wondering. Just to get to the age of nine he and his family have overcome a great number of challenges. Most likely he will go blind before adulthood. You can get the full details on Bennett and the amazing journey the ThadenPierce clan is taking to give him a store of visual memories before that happens here.

The idea is to provide Bennett a tool for visualizing color long after his eyes fail. The development of such a tool relies on fortuitous timing and a number of colliding concepts.

Secondary language acquisition, a time in which one can pick up languages as a native with the ability to think and conceptualize in those languages, begins somewhere around none or ten years of age. It’s also a time of highly active development in the parts of the brain that process sound, rhythm and music. Aural training and mnemonics are particularly easy for most children during secondary language acquisition.

Ben is learning the piano.

Chromesthesia or sound-to-color synesthesia is a type of synesthesia in which heard sounds automatically and involuntarily evoke an experience of color. Sound-color synesthesia is far more common than color-sound synesthesia, although there are reported cases where sounds and colors activate bidirectionally. Some studies showed that hallucinogenic drugs could induce temporary chromesthesia in non-synesthetes. The cross-activation theory suggests that the mechanism for chromesthesia could use existing passageways of the brain. If this is true then it might be possible for the brain to develop a mechanism for directly associating sound to color.

This means Ben could learn to hear color.

UPDATE: Expanding the Idea

The design goals have changed. Not only will I need to make the casing more robust, it will need to incorporate some protection for the color sensor and possibly a sealable design. In order to facilitate recording and playback we’ll need SD Card read/right capability and data logging. We’ll need a base that can charge the sphere (inductive, maybe) and connect it to a computer for playback. To get the rest of the world involved we’ll need an interface that facilitates the sharing of recordings.

There will have to be different versions of the device. Everything will be open source from the code to the design files, so using breakout boards and off-the-shelf components will make for a great DIY project without too much fuss for those that want to build their own. In order to lower costs to the point we can start giving them away, however, we’ll need a custom PCB (also open source, of course) to reduce component count and make it easier to produce.

UPDATE: System Design


  • 1 × Adafruit TCS34725 RGB Color Sensor Breakout
  • 1 × Adafruit VS1053 Codec + MicroSD Breakout
  • 1 × Adafruit Breadboard-friendly RGB Smart NeoPixel
  • 1 × Arduino Leonardo

  • A New Mission and a Big Dream

    maker.strate08/21/2014 at 05:07 0 comments

    I learned two important things from the visit.

    1. Projects are so much more fun when they’re shared. The children’s enthusiasm was contagious and inspiring. I left with so many ideas swimming around in my head that I needed a few days just to collect my thoughts together and differentiate the “possible now” from the “possible someday”. Of course, nothing is impossible.

    2. The color sensor is not crayon proof. The colors get wonky once the sensor has been coated with a thin film of colored wax.

    Initially, I wanted to give Bennett a fun tool he could use to help him remember color. Now I see the potential to help him explore and experience far away lands and cultures. We could give the device to people all around world. They could use it to create, record and share the colors of the world around them. Imagine the endless palettes of color and sound. What do the colors of the rainforest sound like? Or the desert? How about the oceans?

  • The ThadenPierce Visit

    maker.strate08/21/2014 at 05:05 0 comments

    All the ThadenPierce children were excited by the prototype and much fun was had exploring what crayons sound like. The children are extremely close; Bennett is surrounded by love and support. To have any meaningful impact it’s essential to include the whole clan. They’re my endusers, as it were, and an unused tool is a useless tool. I asked all the children to consider the device and it’s possible uses. What do they want it to do? What would they do with it. Little Miss O, the youngest of the clan instantly wanted to know if she could have her own so that she could make up songs for Bennett. From there the children wondered if they could all record songs and share them. Maybe they could get others to join in too. They already collect postcards from far away places, why not colors and music too.

  • Pieces and Prototypes

    maker.strate08/21/2014 at 05:04 0 comments

    I ordered components from Adafruit.com, assembled and tested the individual components and combined them into a rough breadboard prototype. I also found some cheap portable speakers on Amazon I might use for prototyping and picked up a spool of clear PLA filament. I’ll post the component lists, code and build instructions soon.

  • The IMRC

    maker.strate08/21/2014 at 05:01 0 comments

    My Mad Scientist space (at least, that’s what the wife calls it), is limited and I don't have all the things I’ll need for this project. Thankfully, I am lucky enough to have access to the University of Maine IRMC Center. There I can access 3D printers, laser cutters, a CNC and even a 3d mill. It’s a great space and a great program. I’ll include a link — check it out.

  • Where to begin?

    maker.strate08/21/2014 at 04:48 0 comments

    Adafruit has a great project based on the TCS34725 color sensor and the VLSI VS1053B DSP codec chip called PianoGlove. It’s not exactly what I need for Bennett’s specific case, but the tutorial is great, the parts are easily attainable for prototyping and the code is open source.

    My initial idea was to adjust the design and the code to make a low maintenance and easy-to-use note/color trainer Ben could use to start building a color memory. He’s an absolute Harry Potter nut, so I thought a Remember-It-All sphere would be like his own personal Remembrall.

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