Behold RAVI-Bot! Penn Students Build Improvisational Robot That Plays Classical Indian Music

April 12, 2007

PHILADELPHIA -- RAVI-bot, a senior design project built by mechanical engineering students of the University of Pennsylvania, is an electromechanical, robotic sitar that mimics the techniques and improvisational style of the North Indian Hindustani classical stringed instrument.

Part of ArtBots 2007, an international robotic talent show held this year in Philadelphia, RAVI-Bot will be on display beginning April 13 at the Esther M. Klein Art Gallery at the University City Science Center, 3701 Market St. in Philadelphia.  

The undergraduate design team was inspired by classes in South Asia studies, as well as computer and mechanical engineering.  The team members developed the RAVI-Bot, or Robotic Audio Vehicle for Improvisation Robot, not just to honor world-famous musician Ravi Shankar but to experiment with ways to combine music and technology.

"The RAVI-Bot was an immense multidisciplinary project," Peter Brueckner, senior mechanical engineering student, said.  "Our greatest challenge was starting from scratch and successfully designing and implementing aspects of computer, electrical and mechanical engineering and, of course, music."

Like jazz, North Indian sitar music is improvisational, yet adheres to strict guidelines of harmony and structure.  RAVI-Bot is not a music box but rather an artificial musician that follows guidelines in order to successfully produce the classic sitar sound.  Computer circuitry allows it to progress randomly, producing melodic phrases akin to human sitar musicians.

RAVI-Bot won Penn's William K. Gemmill Memorial Award, given annually to the most creative mechanical engineering design project.  The winning designers were Brueckner, Kristin Condello, Michael Dugan and Will Jelliffe, all students in Penn's School of Engineering and Applied Science. 

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