Robotics students build musical staircase


Photo by Devin Perlo.

Jackie Gong

by Jackie Gong
Robotics Three students created a musical staircase between the Film Lecture Hall and Athletic Wing this year, which is now currently in testing mode and is planned to be a permanent installment to this school, according to science teacher Scott Rosenhahn, who teaches robotics.
The staircase plays 26 different sounds for each of the 26 steps, said senior Izzy Brand. “We can change the type of sound that is played to anything we like, [such as] piano, synthesizer, and xylophone.”
The project took about five months, according to senior Luke Fisher. “Planning was mixed in with building time,” he said.
According to Brand, the housing for the electronics is made with aluminum attached to the staircase. To function, the staircase uses laser sensors. The electronics contain 26 red laser modules, 26 photosensitive resistors, two microcontrollers, and one microcomputer.
“When a person steps on a step, they break the laser beam with their foot. We use a photosensitive resistor to detect the drop in light level on a specific step, and it plays a sound accordingly,” he said.
The Engineering Three class started the project last year but was unable to complete it.  When the robotics class was tasked with the project in October, the project almost began from scratch. According to Fisher, the engineering class had not left a plan for future students to finish the project, and had only completed about ten percent of it. “They just bought a lot of aluminum housing and mounted some of it. They didn’t do anything with the electronics or programming.”
Although the staircase was completed in late fall, the students ran across some challenges. “We had several complications throughout the process,” said Brand. “The staircase was up and running in November, but then we had an electronics failure which forced us to order all-new parts.”
The project’s timeline was also extended when students from one group discovered that the metal casing another group built had unsound foundations. “The metal case which houses the electronics quickly fell apart, and we’ve had to redo many parts of the project because things keep breaking,” said Brand. “The whole project has been much more difficult than it should have been.”
Fisher had a similar opinion. “There was a lot of error in the build process,” he said. “Lots of mistakes resulted in fixing things over and over again.”
Although Brand was not thrilled to work on the project at first, he still found that “it was certainly a highlight when we first turned on the staircase and let people try it out.”