Robotic Percussion

In this session we put our robotic building skills to the test and build an orchestra of percussion playing machines!


After discussing percussion instruments and how they work we split the class into three groups. Each group is tasked with creating a robot that will be able to perform a specific percussion technique.

  • Striking
  • Scraping
  • Shaking

Each group is to build their robot using the Quirkbot robotics platform which allows you to create structures from straws and connectors, and control movement with servo motors that we can program to do what we want.

For some inspiration we watch videos of robots playing music:

The movement of our robot is controlled by waves like in the previous session on waves in light, sound and movement, so we discuss what waveforms would work best for each percussion technique. Pulse wave for example is better suited to striking a drum whereas a sine wave in better for scraping.

Making our robots

Full of inspiration and comfortable with coding the robot, each of the groups work individually on creating some different designs of robots that can perform the percussion technique they have been assigned. The robots themselves are made from straws, connectors, tinfoil, rubber bands, lollipop sticks, paper and just about whatever is useful for making noise!

Teaching each other and sharing ideas

Once the designs are complete each group explains their approach to the rest of the class and gives a demonstration of their robot in action. As a group we discuss the pros and cons of each approach and suggest small refinements to the design to improve how the robot works.

Performance: conducting a robotic percussion orchestra!

To conclude the session we gather all the robots together and bring out some acoustic percussion instruments. Each of the students, one at a time, is now the conductor of this strange ensemble and is able to point at each of the robots to bring them in or out of the performance, creating their own arrangement.