Wond II Project Blog
Aug 20th, 2019: Quick note
Okay, really, I just can’t stop to write about my progress at this moment. It’s going well, and soon I’ll be able to show something. Right now it’s just squiggles and code and I just need to keep at it.
I do have a request though: Are you a supporter living in a country other than the USA? If so, please would you search online to see if you can buy the following battery in your country:
Lithium-ion 3.7 volts 14500 rechargeable battery
If this battery is not available for purchase in your country, please email me at email@example.com and let me know.
Please note that many batteries of this 14500 size are made to have an output voltage of 1.5 volts and these will not work in the EMpick. For the EMpick, we will need the 3.7 volt rechargeable lithium ion battery.
The 14500 size of battery is very similar to the ‘AA’ size battery. You can also search for:
Lithium-ion 3.7 volts AA rechargeable battery
Thank you very much!
– Paul Vo
July 14th, 2019: Hard work and details
Well things are back on track but this doesn’t mean it’s easy. I’m happy now with the quieter modulation scheme. Next is the scripting language.
The Vo-96 was not very flexible. Most of its behaviors were hard-coded and could not be defined by the user. (Adjusted yes, defined, no.) The EMpick allows musicians to define their own sounds or to feed in any sound you can hear, via a wave file or through it’s microphone. The EMpick will analyse the recorded sound or wave file into its harmonics and drive and control the string to reproduce the sound by making the string’s harmonics follow the sound’s harmonics. Easy to say, well sort of, but it requires quite a bit of DSP.
Really all of this ought to be called “Physical Synthesis” rather than “Acoustic Synthesis”, because the synthesis is performed upon the physical instrument string rather than mathematically within an electronic circuit.
With the EMpick it will also be possible to define sequences of harmonics or timbres. This will be similar to what the Vo-96 does with its modulators, except while the Vo-96 has a limited selection of pre-programmed sequences, the EMpick will allow the creation of custom sequences by the user.
A notable challenge in designing features like this is to make it easy for the musician to change from one EMpick behavior to another. There are so many different ways this could be handled. Which way will be the easiest to remember and to use? How will the current setting be displayed? (You will want to know what it will do before doing it.) Instead of answering these questions myself, hard-coding them and having to live with all my wrong guesses, in the EMpick I’m adding a mapping layer between the action, the response and the display. This will make it possible to define the user interface behavior via a text file rather than by re-writing parts of the software. It will even be possible, within certain limits, for users of the EMpick to customize the user interface.
It is so much easier to write about all of this than it is to design the software architecture to make it possible. This is what I’ve been working on recently. I didn’t have this level of user interface flexibility in the software definition for the first version of the EMpick I was working on last year. I’ve had time to think about it and to do some use-case experiments and I think no one will be able to judge which user interface actions work well for the musician until one can actually use the EMpick. The solution is to make user interface behavior easy to redefine at run time.
For the beta run I’ll ship with something that works and then listen carefully to your feedback. There is a growing list of supporters who want to be beta testers, but every user will be able to change a few things on their own to suit their own preference.
Thank you, everyone, for your patience. I still do have something to show everyone and I’ll be looking for your feedback on it. And I still need to make a short video to show it. This task just wasn’t on the logical path forward for these past few weeks.
- Paul Vo.
June 11th, 2019: Everything back on track.
This past month I’ve been working on the modulation scheme. The EMpick’s string driving system, although novel for being simultaneously bi-directional in that it both senses and drives the string, has much in common with class-D amplifiers. It is important for both regulatory and performance reasons to minimize and ideally eliminate any energy emissions of the drive signal that are not in the audible band, i.e., 20Hz to 20KHz. This has been quite a challenge, but I’ve found a great way to do this. My previous solution wasn’t really working in all cases, but this one is solid. I’d love to blog about it, but this method should be added to my next patent before I do.
I’m pretty sure the subconscious mind can do real work in the background, perhaps while we are asleep. It’s not free or effortless. It’s first necessary to consciously put in the work by identifying all the factors involved and really trying to come up with a solution. But once you notice your thoughts circling back to the same unworkable ideas, it’s time to stop and become occupied with something else. Give it a few days and then return to the problem. You may see the solution right away. Or it may come to you sometime when you aren’t expecting it. Suddenly you’ll notice you are thinking about it, and there it is!
Now I’m able to complete the design. This is all so radically different than before that I must make what we call a “mule”, a quick single piece prototype to prove everything out. There will almost certainly be corrections needed after this, but then we can move forward again towards BETA. Several supporters have already volunteered to participate in a beta test.
I’m back on track this month and feeling like I actually know what I’m doing again. It had been a bit like the Mr. Bill Show around here. Does anyone remember that Saturday Night Live puppet skit from the 1970’s? It was weirdly gruesome, but weirdly funny. Mr. Bill suffers various… setbacks. Anyway, things are back on track now.
Thank you, everyone, for your patience. I do have something to show everyone and I’ll be looking for your feedback on it. I need to make a short video. Stay tuned!
- Paul Vo.
May 10th, 2019: Slow Progress and business realities...
It’s May 9th now. I’m sorry to have taken so long to write an update. Some of you have messaged me asking what is going on with the EMpick. Here is the full story for you and everyone. The quick news is that the EMpick remains “on”, but if you want to know more, I’m sharing all the background here. It’s a bit long…
Tax prep in April created a “free” opportunity to review the metrics of my business model. My conclusion? Things are not going according to plan, and if I keep doing the same things the same way, there is no reason to think it’s going to get better.
The best way to speed up and finish the EMpick would be to spend more money. An assistant engineer able to take on some of the load would really help. A webmaster handling web site updates would be a great help. A bigger budget would help in many ways.
My original strategy with the EMpick was to spend 2017 as a robot and get it done quickly. This involved first putting into place the web site, the financial and order tracking, and the “integrations” by which these tasks are performed automatically over the internet for me. Automating the “business” side of my business freed me to get deeply into my reliable single-minded get-the-job-done groove where I do my best work and finish things. This held together very well for a few months. By the end of 2017 the task of maintaining and updating these “automatic” systems began to take it’s share of my time. I could still see a way forward though.
It’s a lot easier to innovate in two phases. During the first phase you don’t worry about how expensive it will be to manufacture your innovation. The goal is to get it working. Once you get it to work, you take it through a second phase of design where you concentrate on refining it and reducing what it costs to manufacture. Often you can make it work even better as you reduce its cost. This two cycle method is best, but each cycle costs time and money. It is sometimes possible to combine the innovation cycle and the cost engineering cycle into a single cycle. This is what I tried to do with the 2017 EMpick design, and I came close, close enough I decided. By mid 2018 I was going ahead with a design I thought would work as I intended, but would cost somewhat more to manufacture than I’d originally planned.
I could see a way forward despite this. I’d hire some friends as I’ve done before, and we’d hand-assemble, test and ship out the first few hundred EMpicks ourselves. This would be both faster and less expensive than the set-up fees involved in turning assembly and shipping over to an assembly and fulfillment service as I’d originally intended. We’d ship them out to supporters, and generate enough new sales of these “version 1” EMpicks to fund a cost-reduction cycle on the EMpick design AND to turn assembly/test/ship over to a service. It would just take longer and require more work.
I was going ahead with this plan until the actual impact of the tariffs placed upon electronic components from China became clear to me. My most expensive components were going up in price by 25%. This spoiled the plan completely. Funds would be so tight I’d just barely be able to break even manufacturing and shipping EMpicks. One misstep, and I’d be losing money on each EMpick. A small business such as mine can’t afford to sell things at a loss and you don’t don’t increase your funds by breaking even.
I could not see a way forward with the existing “version 1” EMpick design. There was no point to completing the Version 1 EMpicks. This would just take more time and money, money I needed to fund the second design cycle. Then I evaluated the possible cost-reductions and decided I could keep quite a bit of the existing electronics and just make some key changes. The biggest change was replacing the microcontroller chip with a new chip that was almost twice as powerful yet nearly half the cost.
Short story is, this “just change some of the most expensive things” plan didn’t work out. I’ve ended up having to make enough changes that it really is a complete redesign of the EMpick. During this task, further testing of the haptic feedback idea revealed a weakness that would cause the tactile actuator to fail. The answer was a custom component, but this is a project in itself that I have neither time nor funding to do. Taking this feature out of the design has also lowered cost, so the forward-looking financial argument for creating the EMpick is now back to where it was originally supposed to be. And I’m in about the same place with the design process as I was in with the version 1 design in mid 2018.
Well, no, it’s better than this. We have quite a bit of firmware ready to run on this new design. And key circuit features have been tested, at least at the basic level of hardware functionality. There is a lot more work to do, but I should be able to do a BETA run in August, and if we do a quick-turn circuit test before this, I may have the confidence to manufacture about 1000 “BETA” EMpicks, the first 450 or so going to supporters like you who have waited so long.
This is my plan currently. If nothing goes wrong terribly wrong, I can see through to starting to deliver EMpicks in September or October of this year.
I say “may have the confidence” because as you may imagine, making 1000 copies of something and then discovering that some change needs to be made to the circuitry for them to work properly would be catastrophic. It’s much safer to make first 50, then 200, then perhaps 750, etc. But this takes more time and costs more money. It’s not easy, all of this. I will see what seems doable when the time comes.
This plan gets the EMpick done, but it doesn’t help me with any additional funding. However, something has been going on with the Vo-96 recently that has created an opportunity.
You see, I’ve never wanted to start a manufacturing company. I wanted to create ideas, invent and patent the means for realizing them, and then license those patents to other manufacturing companies. It’s possible to make a living this way, and it’s possible to get new ideas out to the world faster and wider than by trying to grow a new company from scratch and keeping all your ideas to yourself. And you can mostly keep doing what you love, instead of being pulled into all the other issues and challenges of running a larger conventional company.
I had this license thing going with Moog Music Inc. who licensed my technology and commissioned me to develop the Moog Guitar electronics. Since then, I’ve been trying to make this work with the “one person does everything” small manufacturer model. This isn’t working out. It’s missing the revenue I could be getting from licensing my technology to other companies.
Licensing can fund my ongoing work, to pay people to help as needed, etc. Over time, companies that licence from me will be coming out with their own products which will broaden the market and bring others into it. Some competition would be great.
With the help of modern turn-key manufacturing services I can manufacture the EMpick ongoingly and this can eventually, eventually fund my business. But to grow faster and go further, to really get this out there to the whole world of string playing musicians, and especially to make an updated Vo-96 available to guitarists, I need license deals.
With help from friends, I shipped close to 100 Vo-96 kits and guitar installations in 2014. I haven’t promoted the Vo-96 since then because I can’t afford to make them on my own. People message me that they want one, but I can’t build them. Right now there are many artists out there who have continued to play their Vo-96 instruments. There are some who have made a Vo-96 based instrument their main instrument for performance. A few of these people even took the initiative to have custom instruments manufactured around the Vo-96. These are guitarists who bought and paid for their Vo-96 just like everyone else — no special deals. I didn’t make any of this happen. The Vo-96 made it happen, because it does what it does.
This month I’ll be adding a couple of pages to my website specifically to advertise and explain the benefits of licensing this technology. I’ll send out a mailchimp mailing to announce this, but before I do I’ll publish the link here. You may be interested in taking a look at it, and who knows, perhaps some among my EMpick supporters are also potential licensees.
It’s just nuts isn’t it, that a guitarist such as Gabriel Marin of Consider the Source is out there playing an instrument that no other guitarist can currently buy, not for any amount of money? He’s creating curiosity and demand when there is no supply. So are others such as Ian Ethan Case. Check out these videos:
In this next one Gabriel talks candidly about his guitar and his rig:
And one last point:
The EMpick is designed around one channel of the future “next Vo-96”. The Vo-96 needs to be modular you see, to make it practical to cover the 4 string and 5 string bass market, as well as all the other “not 6 string” segments. The EMpick will be a great product in its own right, and it will also be the basis for the next Vo-96. It’s really all just one effort, one basic concept, (detailed computational control of physical vibration). Out of this one new technology, a great many different products are possible. If I can get some wind in my sales, I’ll make some of them happen.
What I really want to do next is to design an entire guitar with the latest Vo-96 technology in the core, and with other improvements and features. Yes, that will probably be a work of art that will take me a long time to finish. There’s the best reason for licensing this technology to companies big enough to get some products out fast.
Okay, this is all for now. If you go back and read previous entries, you’ll fill in some other details. Believe it or not, I left some things out of this long long blog post.
- Paul Vo
April 2, because no one takes anything published on April 1 seriously. 🙂
April 2, 2019:
Just a short note here. During this past month I’ve removed the haptic element and I’m sewing up the resulting loose ends. It’s been tax-prep time. Yes I know I should send out a Mailchimp mailing soon — it has been months. I should probably also advertise the EMpick on Facebook again. The thing is, these things take time. I’m so late on the EMpick design; I feel some things can wait. Things like tax season and other business matters can’t wait though.
March 31 Design Notes:
I’ve received notes of encouragement from supporters about removing the haptic feedback feature from the EMpick design. This was such a difficult choice to make because I spent quite a bit of time getting it to feel strong enough to be convincing to the user. It provided a convincing tactile sensation telling you the EMpick was very close to a string, and if you swept past the string the tactile feedback was strong enough to feel something like plucking the string with a pick.
I’m not going to revise the plastic enclosure design. It feels good in the hand just as it is. The plastic features specific to tactile feedback will remain in the design. This will save some time, and if it becomes possible to develop the durable custom haptic feedback component that the haptic feature needs, I won’t have to revise the plastic enclosure but only the circuit board to ad haptic feedback back into the design. A custom component would definitely add to the cost of the EMpick though, so this would have to be a more expensive “V2” of the EMpick.
The design revision I’ve been working through gives us twice the processing power of the original DSP chip, and at almost half the cost. The semiconductor industry continues to follow the Moore’s Law phenomenon of value multiplication. Just wait a bit and you’ll get a lot more for a lot less. It’s amazing. If only we could make such constantly outstanding progress everywhere else.
Battery power and run time — this was also stressed by tactile feedback. It takes a surprisingly large dollop of energy to produce a convincing tactile feedback sensation. But guess what? If we wait a while, we’ll begin to see lithium ion battery technology with even greater energy storage capacity.
Okay, back to work. When will this be finished? This depends how much I spend on outside services and assistants to help me get this done. I have had an initiative in the works to improve this situation on the back burner for some time now. I’ll reveal this quite soon. At this point, spending more on the design would really speed this project up into the Beta stage. I’m doing what I can. Stay tuned to this station.
That’s all for now. Back to work…
Feb 28, 2019 - Hmm, why won't this mountain move?
Two months into 2019:
I’ve made good progress on most aspects of the redesign, but I have to admit I am not going to be able to deliver on haptic feedback. This is very frustrating to me. It’s not that haptic feedback won’t work. It does work and it is very convincing. The problem is that to do it in a durable way that will keep working for many years, I really need to design our own haptic feedback component. Read on if you are interested in the details…
I’ve been working with an off-the-shelf component. It forces me to make too many compromises. One of those compromises is intolerable: The part is prone to failure in this application. This isn’t the part’s fault, its that the most energy-efficient way to implement haptic feedback is to arrange for the touch-feedback device to be in direct contact with your thumb when you hold the EMpick. This provides the most vivid emulation of the feel of a pick on a string. The downside is that it also exposes the touch feedback device to your thumb’s motion.
The haptic element I was working with is basically a voice coil. Anyone who knows voice coils knows you can’t push them laterally within the gap. I designed 3 plastic ball bearings to ride beneath your thumb and roll on a platform driven by the voice coil in response to lateral motion. This arrangement made it impossible for your thumb to push laterally on the voice coil. This tactile feedback system worked quite well, but not for long. I won’t detail the failure mechanism except to say that the voice coil element is not designed to withstand wide low frequency excursions.
This is a gradual sectioning of the tactile feedback element it was designed into the EMpick. Sorry if this takes a moment to load.
I’m quite sure I can design our own custom component that will provide good tactile response in just this same way and will last for many years. However, developing a custom component is a serious project in itself and would need its own budget and timeline. It’s frustrating, but considering how late the EMpick already is, I can’t responsibly go down the road of developing a custom haptic component. This is why I have to remove the tactile feedback feature. There is no sense shipping something that will definitely quickly fail.
Removing the haptic element from the EMpick design database will also take a bit of time, but it’s not too bad.
I have an alternative purely mechanical idea that has been in the EMpick design all along. What is needed is a way to direct the EMpick over the strings, moving from string to string quickly and easily, staying very close to the string with the EMpick coils, and yet never colliding with the strings. Tactile feedback would have helped with this by providing feedback to the player’s thumb as the EMpick came within control distance of a string. My alternate idea is an entirely mechanical method. Maybe if I can get over my haptic frustration, I can come to see this alternative as superior. It certainly is simpler.
What is is? Stay tuned to this blog and I’ll show it to you. At this moment though, I need to get back to work…
Jan 29, 2019 - Still moving the mountain a few inches.
Start of 2019 Update:
My apologies to those who found voinventions.com inaccessible over the weekend. An automatic plugin update appears to have crashed my site. It does not seem to have been due to a hack of the site. It took a bit of work to get back online. Unfortunately I’ve lost the last blog post, but I think tomorrow I can rewrite it and perhaps add a few points.
I’m going to try a different way of doing these. I’ll just grow this entry as things come to me.
I’m pretty happy with the basic shape of the EMpick. It looks a bit fat where the battery lives, but actually it fits into the hand very comfortably. Here are a couple of CAD images of the design, and then a couple of images of a 3D printed test piece of the actual plastic enclosure. I’m holding it and it really is just the right shape. One thing; I’m going to add a chamfer to the edge of the coil housing “pick” to make the edge rest against the side of my finger more comfortably.
That’s all for this moment. More to come soon…
- Paul Vo
Dec 23, 2018 - Out with the old, in with the new, like moving a mountain just a few inches.
There are 3 things going on. The EMpick processor change is one of them and we’ve made good progress there. Still, when you make a change like this you have to re-examine everything. It’s like moving all your stuff to the apartment next door. Sounds easy, but you still have to handle every little thing. “It’s like moving a mountain just a few inches.” This will result in a better product though, and I won’t have to raise the price. My market research tells me that $249 is about the limit that people will pay for a hand-held guitar playing device – no matter what it does.
The second thing is a continuing involvement with the medical project. This is rewarding; I mean, it really could help people. I can’t talk too much about it, I’m an inventor/consultant on the project but it’s not my project. The science and sophistication of the EMpick design is quite a bit further out on the “bleeding edge”, but thinking about finely controlled magnetic fields in a medical context brought me a very useful insight I’ve applied to the EMpick operating modes. The bottom line financial reality factors in here too: The medical project helps keep my budget balanced while I complete the EMpick. It lets me concentrate on the tech and not on finding new supporters. I’ll be all about advertising the EMpick once I have one to demonstrate, and there is nothing more important than getting to this goal ASAP.
The third thing is simply, “Everything Else”. When I first conceived of the Wond II Project and the EMpick, I had this not-quite-human idea that I could just power through it in a year. I’d spend the year doing nothing else, I thought. Well, this didn’t quite work out. You end up slowing down. And no matter your desire, life intrudes and you must deal with the realities. So I’ve had to find a balance where my energy is replenished; a sustainable drive forward rather than an exhausting all out sprint.
The latest reality is tariffs. Suddenly the cost of everything has become uncertain. Virtually every component I’m using has a tariff warning attached.
Here is a letter from my main components distributor to their customers. They are doing a good job trying to manage this for their customers, but there is great pricing uncertainty out there right now:
Our Valued Customers,
The tariffs announced by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) under the Section 301 Action went into effect on July 6th, 2018 with additional products added to the list on August 23rd. All items identified, as classified, under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS) with a country of origin of China are subject to a 25% duty upon importation into the United States. See List 1, List 2, and List 3.
Digi-Key continues to work toward minimizing the impact of the tariffs to our customers. We are working with the ECIA (Electronic Component Industry Association) and our 800+ suppliers to minimize impact on the supply chain yet adhere to the law. Due to our inventory position, we have been able to delay the immediate impact of the tariff in some instances.
Digi-Key is responding to customer requests to identify products impacted by this tariff in the search results on our website. Again, the tariff only impacts products with specific HTS codes, with a listed country of origin of China, and consumed within the United States. There is no impact on pricing for products within Digi-Key’s stock shipped outside the United States.
This is a dynamic situation and we will continue monitoring the situation and exhausting all avenues to mitigate any impact or uncertainty in your designs or supply chain.
President & COO
It’s nuts, this tariff thing. I discussed in my previous blog entry what we are doing to overcome this. It has been a big job, and it is ongoing.
I’m taking a holiday during the holidays. I need to have a week to reset and restore. When I return in January, it will be pedal to the metal. The rework is almost complete, and this time it is already tightly integrated with the plastic enclosure. In January I’m going to publish a time line for completion, BETA, and then production.
I know this project is very late. I will complete it though, I always do. Thank you very much for your patience and understanding. Happy holidays to everyone, and may we all have a happy, productive and successful year in 2019.
- Paul Vo
Nov 8, 2018 - It's been a busy month but changes have slowed our progress...
October was supposed to be the month I made a few EMpicks as a final test before going on to the Beta run. Sometimes things just refuse to line up and this has been one of those times. My collaborators were both unavailable during October. More significantly though, in the course of gearing up to make a few I updated the components list and pricing and, well, prices have risen quite a bit. I’ve been aware of a brand new microcontroller from Texas Instruments that is twice the power and half the price of the TM320F28069. I’ve decided the best solution is to move to this more powerful chip.
This isn’t as difficult as it seems. All these chips are in the same family and all use the same coding tools, so you can often just move code from the one to the other, In our case it is somewhat more complex, but not that much. One big boon to using this chip is that more firmware can be coded in C and C++ , a higher level coding language that is easier to write and maintain. However, it does mean I must revise the hardware design and we have to get the new code verified with the new chip. This task is ongoing at present.
The other task I’ve worked on this past few weeks is a new patent. The new hardware and firmware methods that go into driving fat heavy strings like bass guitar strings will probably end up replacing my original methods. For a while I was thinking to just let this go. After all, I hold several other patents and frankly it’s not clear these expensive documents are repaying me for the work and cost of writing them. But I have concluded it would be silly to just publish my very best work to date without obtaining a patent. So, once again I’m writing another patent application. This usually takes me a couple of weeks before I get it into the proper shape.
This is probably the right time to let everyone know that the other reason I’ve blown my target dates on the EMpick is that the whole funding thing has been more difficult than I’d hoped. As a result, earlier this year I took on an additional electronic design consulting task. This is in the field of medicine, which is completely different than music of course. Nevertheless, it turned out that in this specific area my expertise with tight control of magnetic fields allowed me to come up with a very good solution for the problem at hand. This isn’t my project, so I don’t want to say much more. However, if you are curious and know how to search for published patent applications at the USPTO, you can find the publicly published pending patent there under my original name, “Ierymenko”. While I have spent the majority of time on the EMpick this year, taking on this other creative work did slow me down this year.
The thing is, had I not been fortunate enough to be asked to join this medical project, I may have had to cancel the EMpick project due to lack of funding. Instead, I’ve been able to self-fund the EMpick project due to this medical commitment.
The other news this month is that I am negotiating with a company regarding my technology and if this goes well it could make a huge difference in the resources I’m able to fund to get these kinds of projects completed.
So you see, there is a lot going on. I’m also trying to remain somewhat balanced through all of this. Yes, I’m having an actual life too, if only for a few hours here and there. If I fail to enjoy this incredible world and the wonderful people in it, what really is the point of creating anything?
I’m sure this is trying everyone’s patience and I do apologize. Rest assured the EMpick will get done and it will be a great new musical device to add to your tool chest.
We will slip into 2019 with EMpick delivery. Do you remember that the iPhone from Apple came out two years later than originally promised? You may not; most people don’t. What counts today is that the iPhone is a truly great product. We are working very hard, really without compromise, to make the EMpick a total blow you away upside surprise. There is a LOT you can do with this tech. So please, stay tuned here to see the latest developments. Your EMpick remains reserved for you and its coming — just more a lot more slowly that I originally thought.
Thank you again for your support!
– Paul Vo
Oct 10, 2018 - Validation of the Enclosure Design
I have a few pictures here of a physical 3D printed EMpick enclosure. This enclosure has been fabricated using a special plastic and a machine capable of nearly perfect precision. The plastic material is not cosmetically pleasing, but this isn’t the point of this exercise. the purpose here is to validate all the features of the enclosure such as the snaps and screws that hold the enclosure together, and of course to just make sure everything fits and interacts as it should. I’m pleased to say I seem to have nailed this design. The little speaker “nest” is a shade too tight, and the snaps need a bit more overlap, but those are just improvements. The design works properly just as it is. Here then are some pictures of the first “real” EMpick enclosure:
I’m still working on the tactile feedback system. I would really just like to design exactly what I want this component to be, but at this point I think it would just take too long. I’m getting good results with the off the shelf system I’ve chosen.
I’d like to say hello and welcome to the supporters who have recently joined the project!
– Paul Vo
Sep 23, 2018 - Minor loss of time and balance...
The plastic parts all fit together correctly. And I have made a decision regarding the haptic actuator. Nevertheless, I had to attend to a personal matter that took almost 3 weeks. And along with this, it took longer than I’d hoped to arrange financing for the next leg of this project. I can’t complain, because the financing has now come through, so it’s full steam ahead again.
I’m debating if I want to share the nature of the personal matter. I may – but later. when you do a thing like this and it takes a long time, real life goes on of course, and sometimes there are issues that make it impossible to work. This isn’;t a sad story, it’s a very good outcome, but there was a time of worry and actions were required. Later I’ll share details, perhaps in the project epilogue.
Pictures of the actual plastic enclosure are in the works. I just wanted to get a few words out first. Please check back in a few days and see the test 3D print of the EMpick enclosure in “action” live and on Youtube. Thank you all for your continued patience.
Aug 31, 2018 - Haptic Happenings
A note on the enclosure: It is complete in every way – all 3 pieces, the Top, the Bottom, and the Battery Hatch.
We are experiencing a snag with the haptic component. Simply put, the off-the-shelf but ever-so-slightly-customized motor we need for the haptic feedback system has hit a snag. The company I’ve been working with isn’t being responsive The problem isn’t in design, it’s in the unwillingness of the producer to slightly alter their assembly process. I want them to leave out the terminals they normally install for electrical connections and just let me deal with the electrical connections using a pattern on the EMpick PCB. The terminals in question are in the way and must be removed for the part to function in the EMpick.
This is something I have to resolve very soon. It has been dragging on. I wish they’d say yes or no, but instead they say they are looking into it. Then a week of nothing. So you wait. Then you ask again. Still nothing. You ask one last time. Nothing again. At some point I guess nothing = no. This makes Boolean sense I suppose. It just takes a long time:
“Yes” = 1.
Nothing = 0.
0 = “No”.
I have figured out an alternative using an off-the-shelf component that can be used as-is without customization, and I’m now waiting to receive a sample to test this before committing to it. If we go this way, I will have to change an internal “nose” feature within the plastic EMpick housing to hold the alternate solution in place. Then I can release the plastic for initial fabrication.
I really want to get this haptic thing right this time. I tried to achieve this before in the Wond using a cell phone vibrator device, but this didn’t allow the degree of control needed to create the right tactile response. In the EMpick I’m using a different motor with much better characteristics for this task. If I can get this right, it will make a huge difference in the usability of the EMpick. I want it to feel like a pick under your thumb, so that as you touch the string with the EMpick’s magnetic field, you experience the same sensation as plucking a string with a flat pick. Hence the name: Electro-Magnetic Pick = EMpick.
We’re close: Prove out the new haptic, which nails down the plastic. Check everything several times. Order a small test run of real EMpicks. It’s close.
July 29, 2018 - The BIG Battery change
My blog entry from last month announced, “The Enclosure is Complete”. And so it was. At that point I decided it was time to order the custom lithium ion batteries for the EMpick Beta run. Along with this I reviewed what I’d learned from our original Wond shipping experience regarding the regulations for shipping these batteries “contained in equipment” from the USA to the other countries. We are thrilled to have supporters living all over the world. It would be truly brainless to design a product we couldn’t ship to them.
Those of you who were also with us for the Vo-96 production and shipping may recall that the regulations around shipping lithium ion batteries were changing and tightening right in the middle of it all. It turns out the rules have changed again. After looking at transportation regulations of several countries I concluded that to do this properly with a custom battery, we’d have to go through much the same expensive certification process that battery retailers must go through to introduce a new battery to the market. And we could not begin the process until a final production model could be sent in for testing. The labs that do this testing are backlogged because every product on the planet containing a custom lithium battery requires the same tests. We’d also have to maintain a special shipping license and still we’d pay a ‘hazard’ premium in shipping charges. In many places you can’t ship any lithium batteries by air but only by land and sea, etc. etc. The more I looked at it, the more involved it became. If you’ve read this far your eyes are starting to cross. See what I mean? Even just within the USA, approvals and shipping restrictions would raise costs and introduce a long delay between completing the EMpick and being able to ship it.
The bottom line is that today, developing a product containing a custom lithium-based battery is for larger companies who can justify the expenditures and keep up with the changing regulations. A small company like mine shouldn’t try to do it. It’s better to use a stock standard battery of some kind…
The solution: Commercially Available Lithium Ion Cells…
I’ve been aware of the alternative solution for some time. The solution is to use an off-the-shelf generally available battery. So, after a week of evaluating the options I decided the best way forward was to use an AA – sized battery. Several companies make these batteries, which are used in various devices from flashlights to E-cigarettes. I first saw these on the market I think in 2015, but I wasn’t sure they would “stick” because an AA-sized lithium ion battery puts out 3.7 volts while a regular alkaline AA puts out 1.6 volts. It is possible to damage devices designed for standard alkaline batteries by installing one of these powerful lithium batteries. Moreover, the length of these seems to deviate some. The international AA size is termed “14500”, which means 14 mm in diameter and 50 mm in length, but the actual lithium ion batteries called 14500 vary from being slightly smaller to being 3mm longer and almost 1 mm fatter. However, despite these variations and voltage incompatibility, these 14500 lithium ion batteries are here to stay. The product lines have expanded. There are more companies making them. The prices have dropped. Their power capacity has increased. They come with built in protection circuits. One particular battery that is very suitable for the EMpick even comes with a built in charger. You plug a micro-USB directly into the side of the battery and charge it from any standard 5V USB jack. Very cool:
The cell above is made by “Nitecore”. It’s model # NL1475R and you can obtain one together with a USB charging cable from Amazon HERE. This link may not be reachable from all countries, but it seems there is always a way to obtain this battery or others like it. If you use a search engine to look for “lithium ion 14500” (without quotes), you’ll easily be able to find a retail source. ( If you are a supporter and are unable to find a supplier for a 14500 lithium ion battery, please let me know by email at firstname.lastname@example.org ) A suitable battery must be lithium ion, AA sized, or 14500 sized, and must be the usual round cylindrical cell with a button cap on the + end. The battery should include a built-in protection circuit. (most of them do). The Nitecore with the built-in charger has a capacity of 750 mAh, (0.75 Ampere/hours) which is quite good and should last a couple of hours of intense use between charges. You can also use a more powerful one that needs a separate charger. (inexpensive). This one stores 850 mAh but requires its own charger:
HERE is a battery from a different manufacturer also via Amazon. This one claims to be 1200 mAH and comes as a pair with a charger for just over 10 dollars. I have heard that there are newer batteries that can pack more power into a given size, but I also know some of these numbers represent operation under “ideal” conditions. I think they will all work quite well in the EMpick. It does seem these batteries are getting better all the time. Once we get going with the EMpick, I’ll put out a list of recommendations. At this point, the Nitecore products look best to me.
I’m planning on shipping the EMpick with a standard Alkaline AA cell because I can ship this anywhere with no restrictions. (Provided I can get it to work on a standard AA cell. I’m pretty sure it will but I have to test this. I don’t know how long it will work on an AA Alkaline cell, but if I can manage this it will mean you can buy a few at any drug large food store anywhere, so even if you lose or forget to bring your lithium ion 14500 batteries, the show can go on!)
Making the Change
It is actually more difficult and expensive in the EMpick design to use this standard replaceable battery compared to a fixed custom battery. Further below I’ll show how the new battery compartment in the EMpick works. It requires an additional component of plastic tooling, some other parts, a bit more labor to put the EMpick together, and some additional support circuitry. I’ve worked really hard on this and I think I’ve done it in a way that maximizes the advantages:
- Keep an extra battery charged. Never run out of power.
- Lithium ion batteries do wear out. The replaceable battery can always be relatively new.
- Increasingly powerful batteries of this size are being developed.
- Really easy to swap out the old battery for a fresh one.
- Battery compartment accepts all size variations of 14500 or AA batteries.
The main challenge was to design a battery compartment that closes securely and yet is very easily opened without any tools. I think the design I came up with achieves this, but you will all have to tell me what you think once you have your EMpick. What follows are some pictures and a short video on Youtube showing how you swap out the EMpick battery for a fresh one. I think it is quite easy:
Here is a link to the exciting Youtube action adventure movie entitled “EMpick Battery Replacement:”
And next is a CAD representation of the current EMpick design, which is now once again COMPLETE, and going out for 3D printing to check the fit of everything.
Note that for all the images in this blog post, the colors are false colors from my CAD system. LED indicators must be visible through the enclosure. I’m planing on making the real EMpick out of transparent medical grade polycarbonate plastic – tough, durable, hypo-allergenic, a bit more expensive but the “right stuff”. It should look… interesting … with all the electronic bits inside visible from the outside.
June 12, 2018 - Haptic Feedback, the Enclosure complete, and an Ad!
This project has kept me very busy and I’m sorry to have missed an update for May. Everything is in forward motion, from ordering some long lead-time components to arranging terms with suppliers, to doing some advertising, to directing work on the code, to – well you get the idea.
The Enclosure is Complete!
I guess the most visually interesting step forward is in the enclosure design, which is finished now – hooray! I’m just waiting for a sample of the custom haptic feedback component to make sure it’s going to lock into its ‘nest’ in the EMpick. Here are some pics and details. Please note these are still in false color; they are computer generated CAD images. I am planning on making the enclosure clear plastic – the same medical grade polycarbonate we used with the original Wond. The EMpick enclosure is more complicated for a number of reasons. One is that the enclosure halves snap together, and this combined with two screws should make for a very solid device without having to glue things together.
Let me show you around a bit…
Above: I’m quite enthusiastic about the tactile (haptic) feedback system we’ve worked out here. In fairly realistic testing it provides a very clear sense of touching the string with the EMpick’s magnetic field. It does require a custom component and we are waiting for samples of this. The real evaluation must wait until the 3D models, the revised circuit board and this custom component can all be assembled. I can see that point in time down a straight run through some lead-times and a lot of detail. No show stoppers or unexpected delays are in the way!
Below: There are so many details here essential to things working as they ought. This is the inside of the top half:
Here is a detail of one of the clasps. This one is behind the coils:
From the Wond to the EMpick – an advert – with great musicians!
I’ve been working on this video ad for a couple of months just now and then in the background. It’s based on an iPhone video capture of a few moments in the concert by Acoustic Syndicate held on the last evening of operation of the Altamont Theater in Asheville. the Altamont has been a great downtown venue and we are all sorry to see it close. Acoustic Syndicate gave it a final performance evening to remember that final week. In this advert I tried to tie together the original Wond – which Billy uses in the video – to the EMpick, which in the video is presented at an earlier stage of completion than today. These fine musicians make this an entertaining video. Do catch Acoustic Syndicate if you get a chance! The audio here was mono, recorded on an i-phone as was the video, but I used some techniques to give it a fairly realistic stereo field and recover a fuller range of sound.
April 28, 2018 - A major milestone in EMpick development!
A few weeks ago we reached the milestone that had proved to be more difficult than anticipated. We brought the harmonic control capability I first developed in the Vo-96 over the EMpick. It is now running on a different digital signal processor, but more importantly it has been rewritten to overcome the structural problems that made it difficult to modify and add features to the Vo-96. This new implementation is fully scripted, and my plan is to expose these scripts to the user initially in the form of a simple text file so that users with very little computing experience can hack the behavior, features and sounds of the EMpick (without the possibility of damaging the control system) and add unique custom features, etc.
From here on forward we’ll be working on features, defining this scripting language, getting the microphone – analysis – re-synthesis loop working, etc. Hopefully now that the core capabilities are solid, we’ll be able to move forward more quickly. The core capabilities that are in place now include the Vo Harmonic Control system, the USB “thumb drive” OS-independent behavior, charging, and firmware updates via USB by dragging an update file into the USB “EMpick” thumb drive.
Oh — and the beaming of re-synthesized audio into the pickups of an electric guitar is also in-place, though the sounds themselves are not there yet. On this point, those who have used the Wond with an electric know that the raw sound of the Wond’s chaos drive field, (that’s really what it is), induces some very aggressive sounds in an electric’s pickups. Turning down the tone control, playing through a filter like a wah pedal for example, or positioning the Wond well away from the pickups are ways to deal with it. And there are some who like these chaotic sounds as sonic effects. The EMpick turns this around into a major virtue of the device. With advanced processing, the drive sounds become synth sounds and sampled sounds re-synthesized to the pitch of the string being addressed by the EMpick, and emerge from your electric guitar as part of the guitar signal. I believe people will find this to be a whole new thing to explore, and very musically useful.
But at the current stage of development we are validating the basics that make all this possible. Here is a video I made that demonstrates harmonic control. I made it for subscribers, but also as a kind of “We have this technology. Would you like to license it” advertisement. (For this whole new idea of acoustic synthesis to take off, it can’t be just me doing it. I’m starting to look for people and companies to license this technology and gain the benefit of my years of research and patents as they create their own products based on their own ideas about acoustic synthesis. )
I finally have video editor software I’m not completely disgusted with. 😉
Oh – yes, I know about the TC Aeon device. So does my friend Greg Heet, inventor of the Ebow. The Aeon is basically an Ebow, though some may say it borrowed its upright positioning and it’s “headlight” led that shines onto the string from the Wond. Maybe so – but tough for them because the hand grip “L” shape of the EMpick is quite superior. 🙂 Anyway, the device is essentially an Ebow. It even rides along the adjacent strings like the Ebow does. It is in no way an EMpick except that you hold it in your hand and it sustains a string. When you receive your own EMpick, you’ll quickly see what I mean. But then again, the Aeon is only about $80. The EMpick is much more expensive but it will do much more than basic sustain – and it will do basic sustain faster and at higher power. It’s in a different league. My hope is that TC creates a buzz around this type of device which will help sales both of the EMpick and of the Ebow.
Sorry there haven’t been more updates. I have a one-track mind and I don’t really argue with myself when that track is on EMpick development. We have also produced an advert — look for it on Facebook in a week or so. At this stage, growing our base of supporters is also very important.
Thank you all for your patience. I know the EMpick is taking longer than planned, but we’ll get it completed and it will be great – so after it has been out a while no one will remember it was late. This is what I tell myself anyway!
Here are a couple of videos about the Aeon. They do say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Greg and I should be flattered I guess!
From TC Helicon: (I’d like to have their ad budget to work with!)
BTW, this doesn’t exist yet either. They say they will begin shipping in July 2018 I think.
… and here is a less hyped evaluation by “Ryan”:
- Paul Vo
March 18, 2018 -- Uh, what happened to February?
Well the long and short of it is that I lost a couple of weeks to the flu in February and this put a dent in our momentum. So February was not a good month. We are back on it now full force.
On a positive note, there is suddenly a lot of new interest in the Vo-96 because Gabriel Marin has been out there performing with his double-neck instrument. He is a monster player and there are many guitarists who follow him. We’ll be doing some joint marketing in the future. This isn’t the EMpick, but it is closely related because the EMpick’s starting point is as a single channel of the Vo-96 and we are building on top of that with new features and the ability to handle all kinds and diameters of string. (except nylon of course).
Back in EMpick land, a lot of code is being written but there is nothing spectacular to show yet. What everyone wants to see is the actual EMpick, in an actual enclosure, with actual electronics and doing its actual thing. This is what we are working up to, one tiny detail at a time. It does feel like forever, but there are only so many details. Eventually you get past the last one and it’s ready. The milestone ahead is when I order what I hope will be the final EMpick circuit boards and a few enclosures to test via 3D printing.
One supporter questioned the tab-type momentary switches. I did some tests on this and decided to go with an actual button instead. As soon as I make this change I’ll post a CAD picture. The problem is not wear and fatigue of the tabs over time because the movement is so very small. The problem is that the injection molding process we’ll use for high volume production may not be able to hold the geometry perfectly, and if the tabs come out a bit bent down they will activate the switches all by themselves. It’s more expensive to use separate buttons and I have to take steps to make sure they don’t rattle or buzz, but it’s the right way to go. Here is the current state of the design with integrated tab switches: (It’s in a false color I find helpful when designing in Solidworks.)
Back to the Vo-96 — here is an unpublished video of Gabriel experimenting with the Vo-96’s interaction with a digital pedal. I’m sorry, I don’t know which particular pedal, but it doesn’t sound like this with any other guitar anyway. There is a secret sauce interaction going on here, a little GM special. Please don’t share this out, it’s meant just for you. There will be many more videos of his work in the future, done to a better quality standard. But this is interesting, for sure. The relevant point is, this is being achieved through injection from the Vo-96 to the standard guitar pickups on his very custom guitar. The EMpick will do this kind of electromagnetic injection into the pickups. I don’t know if *exactly* this sound will be obtainable, but this is the kind of thing the EMpick will make possible. Here is the link:
Once the EMpick is done, I plan on a new Vo-96 incorporating EMpick innovations for all 6 strings – and in a modular form factor so that it can be applied to any stringed instrument from 4 strings to, well I guess 88 strings. This Vo-96 will be much more expensive than the EMpick in any channel configuration of course – and is quite far away in the future.
— Paul Vo
Gabriel will be playing this instrument exclusively going forward. My hope is this will help raise awareness of acoustic synthesis technology and what it can do and help us reach all those guitarists who haven’t heard of my work at all. I run into such guitarists frequently, even here in Asheville. They are too busy with gigs and rehearsing to spend much time on social media, and they won’t find my products in any musical instrument store, or on Sweetwater, etc. So they just don’t know what we are up to over here in Asheville – until they do!
January 25, 2018 -- 2018!
I hope everyone enjoyed the holidays!
Yes, in posting this update I just managed to accidentally overwrite the previous BLOG entry from December 21, 2017. It was about achieving USB functionality for software updates. Hopefully you were able to read it before today. Not too difficult to do, but I know better! Darn!
2018: it’s like the cover of a sci-fi novel…
With the holidays and family things and end of year business things and beginning of year business things, I had to put our EMpick development on pause for about 3 weeks to get all of these things sorted. Starting the new year with only a very small backlog and the EMpick on the front burner.
The things that have happened during this pause have all been very good. A lingering business matter has been resolved in a very positive way and I’m thankful for this. Other more personal things have happened, also in a very positive way.
A new collaborator, a creative in the art of media has joined our other collaborators working with me on the EMpick. You will start to see a positive difference in activity on our social media pages, advertising, and web presence. Advertising especially will get a boost as the EMpick gets closer to completion.
Job one for me is designing the EMpick. I do my best work when I can focus on product development. Developing a product is itself a multitasking enterprise with a long list of action items. Collaborators in the area of coding our USB implementation and in optimizing specialized real-time DSP control code are being a great help. I’m personally still working on the design of the plastic enclosure – almost done!
This isn’t a traditional kind of company with executives and employees. I don’t want to be an executive. I want to try new ideas and develop new products. I work with collaborators. This is a more flexible, cooperative and less “position-structured” way to do development. We are independent but we all want to bring something new to the world of musical instruments so we are working together on the EMpick. It’s my project of course, so it’s my responsibility to keep a step ahead and lead the way.
(I may blog more about this business model more one day, especially if it continues to work out well.)
Every ad I’ve run has brought in more supporters. I just haven’t had the time to create very many ads. Now with a new shoulder to it we’ll have better media presence, which hopefully leads to more supporters, which leads to more EMpicks…
Thank you for Supporting the Wond II Project!
We have been back at it strongly for a couple of weeks now this January. We aren’t quite ready with the Vo-96 functionality yet. It’s not just a matter of copying it over from the Vo-96. It is being redesigned around a more advanced way of sensing and controlling guitar strings. Current Vo-96 technology balks at brass and nickel. This new control method works with any magnetically responsive strings from acoustic guitars using regular copper/brass/bronze strings on up to electrics using pure nickel wrap. While the best results will always come from using strings with the best magnetic properties, this new tech will actually drive any steel-core string with as much power as nature allows.
In related NEWS:
The Vo-96 has been in the news lately. Gabriel Marin of Consider the Source is about to perform here in Asheville. He’ll be playing his new double neck, double Vo-96 electric instrument. Gabriel plays a lot of solo lines – melodies, lead lines he delivers with off-planet virtuosity. One string at a time. So the sounds he’ll be using will be very similar to the sounds the EMpick will give you when operated in Vo-96 mode. Here is this amazing instrument:
Look for Consider the Source on YouTube and at a venue near you.
That’s all for now, but as soon as we have the EMpick operating in Vo-96 mode I’ll be blogging about it
— Paul Vo
December 21, 2017 --- We have USB working!
I just accidentally overwrote the original blog entry for December 21 with the new one for January 25, 2018. So here is a summary of the missing blog entry:
Basically, what this blog post showed was a demo video of me showing how the EMpick now becomes a “thumb drive” when you connect USB. This represents a big milestone in EMpick development. It wasn’t easy, especially with the complexity of USB-C. However, USB-C will be everywhere in a couple of years, (It’s called “Thunderbolt 3” on MAC), and USB-C on the EMpick will make a lot of sense then and into the future.
To do a software update and/or charge your EMpick’s battery, you just plug a USB-C cable into the EMpick and connect it up to your computer, or to a 5V USB power source if all you want to do is charge. When you pl;ug it into a computer the EMpick comes up as a little external flash – a thumb drive” named EMpick in your folder tree. You’ll download a software update from our Voinventions site here, drag the file onto the EMpick thumb drive, and that’s it – software update done!
Nov 21, 2017 - Working on the enclosure and testing more code
I’m just going to drop random screenshots here for the next few days. The whole thing is coming together and it’s kind of a brain stretch – little details to deal with in the code, in the electronics, and the enclosure design underway in Solidworks. (By the way, what a fine software application is Solidworks. One of the best conceived and best maintained pieces of software I’ve ever encountered!)
Here is a link to a little video friend and supporter Killick Hinds made after visiting here in Asheville on afternoon. Let me explain what you are seeing and hearing here. I have a 15 inch long 15 gauge plain guitar string I am using to test the EMpick circuit you see in the video. Killick is just lightly tapping and sliding on this string with his bare fingertip. There is no slide, nothing, just the soft pad of a finger. This particular string just happens to sound like a weird charged up penny-whistle, but this could be any sound. The point is, with this technology you could use the EMpick on a string and play instant slide or various notes on that string with just a light touch of your fingertip.
The following screenshots – think of a sculpture. You start with rough block shapes and you chisel them down. Except in software you can also build them up in a different way and move them around. So nothing you see in this blog post is exactly what the final EMpick design will look like. What you see is that final design slowly emerging from imagination tempered by logical necessities.
Oct 30, 2017 - The EMpick wakes up!
EMpick™ — Coming Alive and Starting to Work!
What you are seeing in this short video is the EMpick with all the necessary instrumentation connected for loading and running firmware and testing all the various functions. Here I’m testing the basic sustain functionality. My finger is on a short length of guitar string. The EMpick is driving this with one set of coils — you see these mounted to the “string jig”, but they’d normally be at “pick” end of the EMpick body. (No enclosure for this yet – working on it!)
This is the newest sustain technology. I’m grasping the string between thumb and finger and sliding along to change the pitch. Like playing bottle guitar with just your fingers! This is what I call “sustain” !!
“It’s not just a string sustainer, it’s a hand-held single string guitar synthesizer.”
If you can see where this is going, click here to Join the Project and reserve your EMpick string controller. You’ll be helping me by increasing the resources I have available for development, and you’ll be reserving your EMpick at a really good price.
Please read the previous blog entry for much more information. You’ll find some pics and a video of how to hold the EMpick in the blog entry before that. You can see it’s coming, slow yes, but sure. Slow but sure.
Reserve your EMpick right now using this link to Join the Wond II Project!
Oct 3, 2017 - More About the EMpick...
EMpick™ — Details and Possibilities
I wince and get indigestion every time I hear the term “elevator pitch” but…
“It’s not just a string sustainer, it’s a hand-held single string guitar synthesizer.”
“A hand-held single string guitar synthesizer.” This is one aspect, but it is also a string exciter and sustainer. And it controls the timbre of string vibration. The elevator pitch keeps getting longer!
The following is a very non-elevator but still not completely detailed description of what the EMpick can do and, everything…
The EMpick is a digital acoustic synthesizer.
The EMpick is entirely firmware controlled, it does nothing without some code in it and everything it does is defined by code. On this page is a portion of the ongoing ultimate list of features. All these things are possible, but some require firmware development beyond what we will have in the first release.
The first EMpicks will ship with basic firmware which will do what the Wond does – actually more like what one channel of the Vo-96 does, plus one or two cool other new things. This is a starting point. Continuing sales will be in everyone’s interest because continuing sales will fund continuing firmware development. (So it must be at least somewhat mindblowing when it first comes out, or sales won’t continue.) The product will just get better and better over time with updates. This is the nature of most successful connected digital products these days, when you really think about it.
Firmware Update Process:
In the music products industry there are some very weird and complicated ways to update firmware. I really wanted to make our update process simple and easy. Therefore: The EMpick looks like a little thumb drive to your computer and connects via USB for both charging and firmware updates. You will download the update file from our site and drag it into the EMpick folder that springs into existence when you attach the EMpick to your computer – just like moving or copying a file to a thumb drive. (As far as your computer knows, the EMpick IS a thumb drive.) No other apps are needed on desktop systems or laptops. Windows, Apple Mac, Linux – anything with a file system that will recognize an external flash drive will just work automatically. I don’t think it can be much simpler than this. Right at this moment we are proving out the rather complex code needed to make this happen on the EMpick – so far so good!
A partial list of EMpick Capabilities:
- excite and sustain vibration. [In Version 1]
- control the timbre of vibration. [Basic In Version 1 ]
- control the octave of vibration. [We’ll try to get it in Version 1]
- excite any of the natural harmonics individually, with or without the fundamental. [Simple version to start.]
- inject a sound at the same pitch as the string into the guitar pickups. This sound may be very different than the string sound, i.e., it may be synthesized or re-synthesized in all the creative ways of electronic synthesis. [Simple version to start.]
- Put an octave subsonic below the guitar string pitch – really, acoustically and electrically. [Simple version to start – but yes!]
- Echo a recorded series of notes played within the harmonics of the next note played.
- Accept data (wav) files to define a timbre of string vibration.
- Use the microphone to record a timbre to define string vibration.
- Drive any kind of string from the fattest bass guitar string to the guitar’s high E. As long as the string responds magnetically we are good. (The Wond gets close to this but fat bass strings don’t always work with it depending on brand). [In Version 1]
- All the guitar pedal technologies – modeling, echo, reverb, flanging, ring mod – whatever, can be made available to the Empick user via the right firmware. It’s an ocean of possibilities, so I want to open up the process and allow other people and other companies to make use of it.
On an acoustic instrument The EMpick emits its own sound, (if you want it to), truly adding a new voice to the instrument. On an electric guitar, it emits a magnetic field that couples sound into your guitar signal.
We’ll try to get all this basic structure into the first release and make the [indicated] features surfaced and functional.
It’s going to be a very interesting device.
On the original Wond, I was dissappointed by the tactile system. It didn’t cut it.
The tactile system in the EMpick is a whole new deal, stronger, much more sophisticated, and it acts directly against your thumb. If what I’ve tested in the lab works the same when we load it into the actual EMpick, the experience will be quite amazing. You’ll “feel” when the magnetic field touches the string, so the EMpick will feel something like it feels when you pluck a string with a real guitar pick, except you won’t actually touch the string physically but only magnetically. It’s be magic, if I get this right. It’s tricky. We’re working on it!
Status and Pricing:
Right now I’m putting out our first Wond II Project advert in quite some time. Milestones should become more frequent now that we have hardware. My plan is to run a new advert at each milestone and simultaneously raise the price a bit — because the wait will be less and the exact nature of the device less uncertain. The EMpick will reach its new price of $249 when it is available for sale more or less immediately from ongoing production.
The discounts I’m giving right now would not be sustainable as an ongoing business. But I’m asking people to support me now for something they won’t recieve for some months. When you sign up today, you help me make the case to financeers that this is a creditworthy venture.
$249 is truly an amazingly low price considering the cost of putting all these components together to make an EMpick. It’s less than the price of many a boutique pedal, but it is way more “boutique” in design, contant and capability. This fair price is doable because I’m using a new model of enterprise made possible by the internet. Every customer and I can have a direct and simple one-to-one transaction, no matter where we are on this planet Earth. I’m excited about this new way of business. It doesn’t look like all those old ways of doing business. It lets me give the customer the maximum value I can give. Seems like a good idea to me.
Please go to the previous blog entry (September 24, 2017.) to follow more of the EMpick story. You’ll also find some pics there, and a video of how to hold the EMpick.
Or reserve your EMpick right now using this link to Join the Wond II Project!
September 24, 2017 - The EMpick Powers UP!
Introducing the EMpick™
David Torn visited my workshop last year while he was in town for a concert, and I was able to show him the Vo-96 and a prototype of the first Wond. We had a good talk about this and that and how, and why. His intuitions and reactions to the Vo-96 and the Wond gave me a lot to think about.
I designed the Wond to be held like a pen or a highlighter. Torn was holding it that way and sustaining a string, but I could see he wasn’t quite comfortable with it. At one point he flipped the Wond sideways to hold it in his palm. I remember he gave me a quick meaningful glance as he did this.
I realized he’d held the Wond like an oud pick. (The oud is one of Torn’s favorite instruments.) What if I reconceived the Wond along these lines? The coils would have to be repositioned. Everything would have to change, but it would be better. Clearly better.
This thought went around in my head for a long time before I did anything about it. When I began the design of the Wond II earlier this year, I just allowed the ideas to flow. At some point I realized I was going with an alternate ergonomic idea. We’d hold the device in the palm. Then it came to me that the coil end represented an electronic pick…
You hold the EMpick in the palm of your hand, and this puts your hand in contact with the length of it. A small change in any of the 3 angles of orientation is thus magnified by the length of the Empick’s “handle”, giving your hand much more to go on as you work to train your motor memory and automate the basic task of positioning it. It’s just vastly superior ergonomically
I’ve decided to rename the Wond II the “EMpick”. The EMpick is shaped like a guitar pick with a handle. You hold it like an oud pick. It just makes more sense this way.
The list price is going up too – but this doesn’t affect existing supporters – you just got an even better deal than you originally thought. If not for you, none of this would be happening!)
Here is a quick iphone video I made about the EMpick.
Below this text is a picture of the very first moment the EMpick electronics I’ve been designing since February were powered up. The very bright light is from the string illumination lamp, which is on FULL because there is no firmware installed yet to tell it to do otherwise. It is a tri-color led capable of producing all the colors including white, and you’ll be able to control it’s brightness and color modes – just another item on the long list of things the firmware takes care of.
What you don’t see here is the firmware. While designing the hardware, I’ve also been working with one collaborator on the west coast and another to the east. So a significant chunk of firmware is ready to be loaded into the EMpick. This is exactly where things are, at this moment right now. I have no definite idea how long the firmware integration is going to take, but my general plan is to first get all the subsystems proved out. (there is an accelerometer to tell the DSP about the EMpick’s motion and orientation; there are color-aware light sensors, there is the tactile feedback system – lots of stuff). Then we’ll make sure the firmware update process is bullet-proof and the whole battery charging thing too. This will give us a very basic level of operation going with basic sustain functionality. My inclination at this point is to ask any of our current supporters to be a beta testers if they want to participate this way. (I know some do, and thank you!). I want to put the EMpick into your hands. We’ll continue to work on the firmware and everyone can watch and participate, (if they want), by providing feedback on what you experience, making suggestions for various EMpick behaviors, etc.
This musical tool can do so much. One of my goals for the firmware is to open it up by publishing a programming reference, (an API). Anyone who wanted to write custom code could get our SDK and go for it. It will be an open, creative-commons license. You see, there are enough sensors and enough computing horsepower here to do many interesting things with an EMpick. The permutations of it’s capabilities could go anywhere, even to different instruments altogether, where perhaps one or more EMpicks could be mounted and used to make music in some completely different way. For my part, I play guitar so I think I can make the best contribution by focusing on the EMpick’s use with the guitar.
This, loosely with lots of room for improvements, is the current state of the Wond II Project and the EMpick product. Pics follow…
The size, relative to Popsicle sticks:
Here’s a picture taken that time David Torn came to my workshop to put some thoughts into my head:
– Paul Vo
September 18, 2017 - Finally have the boards!
The boards are here, and I’m about to be deeply into merging firmware and hardware. I’ll blog about some other mysterious changes and aspects of this, including the term “EMpick” in a few days. Right now I just want to complete the electrical test. Here is what the circuit boards look like: (The Popsicle sticks are a size reference and are not essential for operation 🙂 )
August 14, 2017 - Ordering the first complete circuit boards. (!)
That really just says it all. Of course, I’ve revised every bit of it at least once. When you are making something that starts with a blank sheet, everything needs to be designed A-Z. There is no existing form factor, no re-used circuits, etc. You literally make it up as you go along, in layers from the first hazy ideas to the full details of everything, specified to the nearest 1/1000″. (Actually, to the nearest micrometer these days.)
I’ve been building these layers for 7 months. I can’t push everything out of my head and into computer databases in one giant continuous flow. Instead, it’s take a few steps forward, look around, tune your visualization, then often it’s go back and rearrange things because you can see what is coming more clearly now and you need to have done something a little bit differently before. Like this, back and forth. Forever. But then you are at the end, and it’s all there in the computer, ready to be sent anywhere on the planet digitally to wherever it gets made. But not before going over every bit of it A-Z to make sure the overall design integrity made it through.
So – that’s done, and I’m creating “Gerber files”. A Gerber file isn’t just baby food, it’s a specialized file format specific to the circuit board fabrication industry. Some of these are visually interesting – the whole thing is often conventionally called the “artwork”. I’ll collect some screen shots and post them here after I get the files to the fab.
July 22, 2017 - Obsessing the Circuit Layout
Here it is July. I’m in the middle of converting the schematic to a printed circuit database. It’s a squeeze, putting all this electronic capability into a hand-held device. It’s necessary to think about every component and every square millimeter, so it goes frustratingly slowly. You work on it every day and you get a lot done. Then you zoom out and your day’s work just disappears, it is so small.
Last month I completed the schematic. In some ways, this means the electronic design is complete. However, a schematic is just an abstract presentation of the circuit. To make this actually work, we need to select the individual component packages, (most parts come in several physical forms, some smaller than others), place this graphically on a printed circuit board, (PCB), and connect everything with what will become copper traces on the fabricated circuit board.
The PCB layout process begins with something called a “rat’s nest”:
This is all the parts, and the blue lines are all the connections. This is the same information contained in the schematic, but in a jumbled physical representation, the “rat’s nest”. The task is to untangle all this, place the parts where they need to be, (“need to be” is a complex thing. Some parts need to be closer to others, electrically. Some further from others. Some must be placed to be accessed by the user – that’s you). The CAD, (computer-aided design), software I run helps keep track of everything, but it doesn’t do any of the other thinking for you.
(These are all “screen shots” so they are a bit pixelated.)
I usually turn the connection map off, and start by sorting things out in an organized way:
There, this is better! Looks…easy, maybe…
Next, I usually pick something that needs to be in a particular place and work around this. As soon as I take this step, the overall shape of the thing and the constrained size of the PCB comes into play. In this project, the PCB is only 0.950 inches, (950 mils), wide. Fortunately, some really tiny versions of our parts have recently become available.
Here I’ve turned on some connection lines and moved some selected components into position:
The image above shows the USB end of the Wond II with the USB-C connector.
A few more days of obsessive work, and here is a close-up of a big chunk of completed circuitry:
This is the entire USB-C interface, USB and firmware update memory controller micro, power on/off switch, battery charging circuit, and two precision switching power supplies. All the “housekeeping” stuff. You are looking at just over 1 square inch of circuit. It’s nuts, what you can do today. And this is not yet the smallest scale one can work with. You are looking at circuits smaller and tighter than virtually any audio electronics you may have on hand, but this is still not quite as miniaturized as your cell phone. Cell phone technology is driving this miniaturization, we are just surfing along in its wake here.
Okay, I have more of the same, but you get the idea. This is what is going on right now with the Wond II Project!
It’s a race towards the first working model…
– Paul Vo
June 14, 2017 - Tiny Parts!
The BIG SHRink…
“Electronic components get smaller and smaller.” We’ve all heard this. The number of circuit components you can put on a small printed circuit board has increased at least tenfold since the familiar DIP package became “old”.
Microcontrollers, tiny systems on a chip that can do any task assigned to them within the same tiny piece of real estate on a circuit board, have also become much smaller, more powerful, and less expensive.
Right now components are undergoing a rapid devolution in size. Everything is being scaled down much closer to its essentials. All the extra wire, all the unnecessary plastic in the IC package is being squeezed out of the components being introduced today. Components that were popular just five years ago are now on notice to be discontinued and are not recommended for new designs. There is a real push towards a level of integration as close as possible to the size of the IC chips themselves.
For perspective, in the Vo-96 design I completed in 2013, only one of the ICs I used was available in the new, smallest QFN-type package. (It’s the capacitance sensor IC under the touchpad.) Now, over half the chips in the Wond II design are QFN or some other package at the same scale as QFN. Most of the parts I’m using didn’t exist even 10 years ago.
I hope the Wond II will be in production for many years, so I’m selecting the smallest and most advanced components for its design.
In our case the cliché, “advanced”, means these are smart components – they have more complex and nuanced behavioral possibilities. Almost every one has a little brain. I’m wiring up all those little brains to communicate with our main brain – a microcontroller which will orchestrate everything according to the motions and commands of the musician.
This whole design terrain is very exciting, but the basics have to come first. Establishing all the necessary connections. Choosing and positioning every last thing where it needs to be, etc. This is where I am now – the choosing of things is now over and I’m in the middle of arranging and connecting everything. The PCB layout process.
The next step, once I’ve finished this arranging and connecting, will be to send the design off to any one of several circuit assembly houses offering a prototyping service. In a week to 10 days after that will be testing this first prototype and loading in some firmware, (“software”). Being a programmable system, it has no idea what it is until the firmware wakes it up and tells it what to do.
Firmware development has been going on in parallel for almost 2 months now. I’m working with a great programmer located in my old Southern California neighborhood. We’ve worked together for many years before and I’m very pleased to be working again with Robert on this project.
Thank you everyone for being patient. Once the first prototype exists there will be things, finally, to see. Once we get it going it becomes all about the firmware, we’ll have videos of the actual prototype as it becomes a very interesting musical device for you to enjoy.
I’m not doing any promotion just now. Promotion will begin again once I have the prototype and can drop some iPhone videos onto Facebook and send a promo out to all the subscribers who aren’t yet supporters. Right now it is all about getting to that prototype.
I’ve given much thought to the Ideas and perspectives you’ve messaged me about – thank you for your thoughts. When you think of something, just email me at email@example.com and it’s in the mix.
– Paul Vo
May 16, 2017 - Battery Charging , Firmware updates and other data
Several supporters of the original Wond have expressed concerns and given suggestions for a better charging interface.
The old Wond charging jack leaves much to be desired. The Wond ii has a slightly bigger battery to charge. The ii is a programmable device so we also need data communications capability for downloading new firmware, archiving user settings, and ultimately much more.
I’ve done a lot of work on this. The very best solution is clearly USB Type C.
Everyone is at least somewhat familiar with USB. You see it with some printers, phones, flash drives – you know. There are many devices routinely charged over a USB connection. This seems to be less so in the Apple universe because of the proprietary Lightening Connector, but the future belongs to USB type C. Apple will be increasing its support of this important standard connector in the near future. Eventually, you’ll have one kind of data cable for almost everything.
So I’m designing the Wond ii with a USB type C connector. There are several levels of communication standards and power/charging standards written into the type C specification – it’s a massive document of 500 pages. The Wond ii will charge from any Type C receptacle including wall plug charging receptacles, laptops and desktops. For legacy equipment without USB type C connectors, there are all kinds of cables available on Amazon and elsewhere. The type C connector is already in use and people are using their old chargers and laptops with a “USB type C to USB type A” cable – standard patching that will be around for years or until all the old USB stuff dies out completely. When it comes to new products, Apple will lead us all to a more uniform type C environment and the Wond ii will be in it.
Data communication with the Wond over USB-C gives us some very interesting possibilities including the ability to add wireless Bluetooth communication to the Wond using a little add on plug-in device.
All this has been taking a considerable amount of time but it’s very important to get this kind of detail right. Being able to update the firmware easily and reliably is absolutely essential. As long as the firmware can be updated, the door to future possibilities is open. (Not to mention bug fixes.)
I’m pleased to announce that your support has made it possible for me to book the services of a freelance firmware engineer, a person I’ve worked with before, so I know he’s good. Robert will be implementing all of this USB implementation and other such things while I will be focusing on the core DSP and vibration control system.
I am very grateful and appreciative of all of you who are already supporting this project. And I’m humbled by your willingness to support me right from the beginning. When the Wond ii emerges from this design process and becomes a real thing that you can hear and take videos of, I’m sure we’ll pick up many more supporters who have a more ‘wait and see’ attitude about it. I’m especially grateful to you because, obviously, if everyone took a ‘wait and see’ approach, this would not be happening! Thank. You.
I haven’t been sending out campaigns or doing very much at all to advertise the project. I’m just far too busy actually doing the job of making it real. And enough of you are supporting the Wond II Project already to make this possible.
Here are some links to learn more about USB type C, etc.
Your comments and suggestions about the Wond Charging jack and USB have been very helpful. Please do email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your ideas, concerns and questions.
April 16, 2017 - Work in Progress
Firmware Updates: The plan is to make the Wond simply look like a thumb drive so you can copy firmware files using any OS without needing an app. This is the basic function that makes all future updates possible.
I’ve mostly been making decisions about which component to specify, one component at a time. Simple resistors and caps are easy, but the more complex elements take time. Nevertheless, the Wond II schematic is coming along nicely…
I have two viable ways to achieve the tactile feedback I’m looking for. I’ve chosen one…
A few days were spent designing and testing an electro-stimulation biofeedback system. Your thumb would be in contact with a small set of electrodes that would send a tiny current through the skin of your thumb across a small distance, like 1/4″ or so. By careful construction of this current pulse it really is possible to produce the sensations I’m looking for that would allow you to “feel” the string when you touch it only with the magnetic fields of the Wond. However, this idea must remain experimental for now. The sensation varies a lot depending on moist or dry hands, thickness of skin, etc. I can imagine ways to automatically compensate for these variables, but this is just too “iffy-tricky” at this stage. And of course the idea of using electricity to mimic touch may be disturbing to some of you. It was once used on some cell phone interfaces, so it’s not a completely crazy idea – but who can say what years of electro-stimulation of your thumb pad will do?
Instead of electro-stimulation, I’m going with a new motor-based technology. This is well-behaved and fully programmable. It’s not completely inaudible, (the main virtue of electro-stimulation is you hear zero), but then neither is the sound of your pick on the string. It feels great – more realistic than the electro-stimulation method because it actually produces a bit of motion of the kind you feel when your pick touches the string.
So for production Wond II, I’m going with the tactile motor devices. I may make a very few Wonds modified with the electro-stimulation idea because I do find it fascinating. Must be the Frankenstein in me.
Please remember, I value your comments and suggestions! Just email me at email@example.com
March 14, 2017 | In the Thick of it | A Video!!
I have a couple of things to show you now.
I’ve put together a video showing how well the new vibration control technology drives a thick bass string as compared with the performance of an Ebow and a Wond on the same string. My test instrument here is a Martin Backpacker guitar that fits nicely on my bench, but then I change to an old Ibenez bass for a more realistic test. I should emphasize this is a lab test to highlight just one aspect of the technology — it’s powerful ability to drive a heavy bass guitar string. I’m not going for tone, the device is not made pretty or compact here, the string is driven so hard it rattles against everything, etc. You probably already get this, but I just want to make sure not to give anyone the idea this is a demo of the actual Wond II. It’s a tiny isolated piece of it, significant only because it shows a capability of my new technology that wasn’t possible before.
In this video, before demonstrating the new control technology I show the Ebow and the original Wond for comparison. The Ebow produces a nice tone but with very slow attack and little volume. The Wond is more powerful — but… please watch the video:
Many bassists have expressed a desire for a hand-held device that has enough power and control to drive heavy bass strings. I’m happy to report that the new vibration control technology I developed in 2016 finally achieves this goal. The Moog Guitar and the Vo-96 will not drive a thick bass string at all. The Wond does drive it, but — well, watch and listen to the video above. The new tech – it can drive literally anything that responds magnetically. It will probably drive the side door panel of a pickup truck. (Can’t wait to give this a try!)
The development work I’m doing right now is not visually rich so there isn’t anything to show. I’m grinding through some math, and moving routines from the Vo-96 to a different DSP microcontroller we’ll be using in the Wond II. The architectural specification is also in process, though I haven’t added to it since a week ago. There is a great deal to do, and I am not cutting any corners!
If you have any comments or questions, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
– Paul Vo
February 21, 2017 | Coming Together | by Paul Vo
I’ve been working on the “Architectural Specification” for the Wond II. Once this is finished I’ll publish it here for comment. I’ve decided to keep things simple and ask you to just email me at email@example.com with any comments you may have.
I’ve lined up some people ready to step up, (as paid consultants), and help me get this product developed. In the past I’ve tried to do almost everything myself. I do have the full set of skills so this ought to result in the most fully integrated “work of art” of a product, right? Well here are some things that are wrong with this approach:
- It takes longer to do everything oneself. Nothing happens in parallel.
- It is emotionally difficult to throw away a bunch of your own hard work and do it over to make it better.
- It’s easier to be objective about the work of another, easier to bite the bullet on changes and improvements.
- It’s possible to do many easy things in parallel when you have a team. This saves time for finding better solutions to the most difficult challenges.
- In short, doing is often at odds with guiding. My most important task is to guide the Wond II Project towards excellence.
- Despite having said all this, I will certainly be personally doing a lot of the design. I’ve just started working on the enclosure shape in Solidworks. I’ll show pictures when it looks like something.
The bigger our development budget, the more great talent we can afford to bring in. We are doing well, but more is better! Your support funds are going right into creating the Wond II. If you know others who would be interested, please introduce them to the Wond II Project.
– Paul Vo
February 15, 2017 | Getting Configured | by Paul Vo
It’s Feb 15th now. I’ve spent the past week wrestling my computer systems and engineering tools into the right configuration to handle this project. All this is now ready to go. Important updates to my engineering software are in place. These days it is engineers and gamers who need the fast, deep machines. I’m ready to crunch some serious simulations.
I’m still working on the blog feature on this web page. I want to keep it simple, and tonight I’m thinking that pages are simpler to manage than posts, because posts come with automatic baggage and then it’s, “well okay, but I don’t want this string of text fragments on every post”, and it takes an hour of reading to discover how to remove it, except when you do remove it something else changes too. I’m comfortable with pages, and eager to design the Wond II rather than furthering my web page design knowledge.
Today I also took the Wond II Project public on my various Facebook pages via a Facebook Event. It’s all still low key, but we have months to raise the temperature. There will be a day when something physical is working — then we’ll have videos. And there are some well-known guitarists already on board and more to come. The more supporters the better – it will make an uncompromising design process possible – if we need something custom, the tooling cost won’t stop us. So if you’ve already joined, it’s in your interest to bring in other musicians you may know who would enjoy this journey and the Wond II product.
Okay, it’s 3:30 AM February 16th. Goodnight for now.
- Paul Vo
February 8, 2017 | Introduction | by Paul Vo
Hello! Paul Vo here,
This is the internal project blog visible to supporting members of the Wond II Project. I’ll be blogging here about the project. Visit this link any time to get the latest info.
If you arrived here by the communications test message, great! We are in communication! If you have comments about the project, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org — I may not always answer but I promise I will read every comment.
Thank you for supporting the Wond II Project!
– Paul Vo