CSIRO air guitar in action.

CSIRO air guitar in action.

It's not rocket science... it's rockin' science

CSIRO has built a virtual guitar to showcase its expertise in designing and manufacturing electronic and intelligent textiles with which people effortlessly control computers.

  • 16 September 2008 | Updated 14 October 2011

Mobile computing

As mobile computing spreads into more fields of human activity, the search is on for simpler non-traditional ways of interacting with computers. Intelligent textiles worn by users are strong contenders for this role.

Mobile computer users will reap the benefits as researchers at CSIRO create exciting human–computer interfaces, using their knowledge of advanced intelligent textiles.

In a demonstration project intended to put their skills on the line, a team led by Research Engineer Dr Richard Helmer created an objectless musical instrument, or 'air guitar'.

'Freedom of movement is a great feature of these textile-based interfaces,' he says. 'Our air guitar consists of a wearable sensor interface embedded in a conventional 'shirt', with custom software to map gestures with audio samples. It’s an easy-to-use, virtual instrument that allows real-time music making, even by players without significant musical or computing skills. It allows you to jump around and the sound generated is just like an original mp3.'

How does it work?

The air guitar works by recognising and interpreting arm movements and relaying this wirelessly to a computer for audio generation. There are no trailing cables to get in way or trip over.

Textile motion sensors embedded in the shirt sleeves detect motion when the arm bends - in most cases the left arm chooses a note and the right arm plays it.

See a demonstration of the Air guitar Wearable Instrument Shirt and listen to Dr Richard Helmer explain how it works:

“It’s an easy-to-use, virtual instrument that allows real-time music making, even by players without significant musical or computing skills”
Dr Richard Helmer

See and hear the instruments we’ve played:

The capability

Our expertise in this field includes:

  • knowledge of the physics and chemistry of designing and making fibres and fabrics
  • integration of conductive fibres into fabrics to form sensors
  • design and manufacture of specialised textiles for entertainment, sports, rehabilitation and medical applications
  • integration of technology and know-how in electronics, conductive textile structures, and software to develop next generation textile technologies for personalised human computer interfaces
  • surface modification of textiles to improve device functionality.

How CSIRO uses it

CSIRO responds quickly to the needs of the marketplace. Electronic textiles have rapidly become platforms for many new personalised technologies, such as mp3 controls and computer keyboards.

Commercialisation and acceptance of electronic textile technologies is proceeding in the sequence: entertainment — sports — rehabilitation — medicine.

Next generation devices will present smart technologies in an intuitive manner that can be readily adopted and used immediately by the consumer.

Who else is involved?

We are collaborating with a growing list of partner organisations, under confidential commercial arrangements.

Anyone interested in obtaining further information on the Air Guitar may contact the Mailing Group, Air Guitar listed under 'Contact'.

Current activites

Dr Helmer is currently adapting his Air Guitar technology to sports technology. He is working with the Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra, Australia, on a project to improve the performance skills of elite athletes.

Find out more about Dr Helmer's work on Science to move 'in the groove'.