Two UT electrical engineering seniors create virtual “air drums”

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Two UT electrical engineering seniors are making it easy for anyone to be a rock star. 

Tabish Chasmawala and Tarun Gattu recently created Airdrums, a device that uses motion sensors to simulate playing a drum. Airdrums works by placing sensors on each drumstick and on one’s foot. These sensors detect which drum a user virtually hits and the force of the drumming and then produces matching sounds. 

Gattu, who plays the drums, came up with the idea behind Airdrums.

“I grew up playing music, and I wanted to use technology to do something innovative with music,” Gattu said. “It’s pretty amazing to see my idea in real life, honestly. I didn’t think it would get as far as it is right now.”

Chasmawala designed the Airdrums’ hardware. He said his previous experience with wearable hardware allowed him to make the first prototype of Airdrums in just 18 hours. 

Airdrums’ sensors measure acceleration in order to detect drum strikes in real time. Chasmawala said he wrote a machine-learning algorithm that allows Airdrums to get more and more accurate the more data it receives. He said the algorithm is currently about 80 percent accurate on a good day but that he is still trying to improve it.

“The algorithm was the hardest part (of making Airdrums), and I had to ask for a lot of help from my computer science friends,” Chasmawala said. “(To train it), we had drummers play as they normally would and then in the air above their actual drum set.”

The device uses Bluetooth and can connect to other electronic devices, such as computers and phones. Gattu said all someone needs to use Airdrums is a phone and headphones. He added that this allows drummers to practice anywhere, even in public. 

With Airdrums priced significantly less than a real drum set, Gattu said they would be great for amateurs but not for experienced drummers. 

“We aren’t trying to replace an actual drum set,” Gattu said. “Airdrums don’t have the same rebound from what you’re hitting. It’s really just a great way to get started and learn rhythm.”

Chasmawala and Gattu said their next steps are to improve the wireless speed of the device — so it does not hinder a drummer’s rhythm — and to embed the hardware inside the drum sticks. Chasmawala said they hope to launch a kickstarter soon in order to take preorders and receive crowdfunding.

“When we introduce Airdrums, we always say everyone wanted to be a rockstar when they were younger,” Gattu said. “We’re going to give people the chance to do that. At first, we thought it would be something for drummers, but it can be used by anybody. Even if you’re not musically inclined, it’s magical.”

Airdrums will have a booth from Friday to Sunday at SXSW Create, where attendees can test the new device.