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July 2007 Issue
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Engineers claim some musical glory


Three University of Adelaide graduates have shared second place in an international musical competition in Germany even though none of them can actually play their violin - at least not in a traditional sense.

Chin Hooi Lee, Joshua Chia and Boon Yao Hong are all engineering graduates, and their skills were applied to developing a robotic system that allows a computer to control the bow and make otherwise conventional violin music.

Originally created as their final-year university project, the RoboFiddler was selected by National ICT Australia (NICTA) to be Australia's representative at the inaugural Artemis Orchestra Competition, which was held as part of the Artemisia Association 2007 Annual Conference in Berlin.

They shared second place with a Finnish team that played a flute. A German team with a recorder won the gold. "I may be biased but I think we were a crowd favourite," said NICTA's CEO, Dr David Skellern.

NICTA sponsored the trip, even bringing graduate Chin Hooi Lee back from Malaysia two weeks early to help with final preparations. A fourth original team member, Beinjy Lim, was unable to take part.

"NICTA found out about RoboFiddler on our website, were excited by its potential and got in touch," said the Head of the University of Adelaide's School of Mechanical Engineering, Professor Colin Hansen. "That's quite a coup given that this was a student project on a student budget.

"We are obviously delighted with the recognition."

The system links a conventional laptop computer to a micro controller that controls both a robotic bow arm and a series of six metal "fingers" that allow 28 notes to be played.

"It is a complex system because the bow needs to be told not only which string to play, but at what angle and speed to play to ensure a clean sound," Professor Hansen said. "The result is not up to orchestra standard, but it is an impressive piece of engineering."

The RoboFiddler performed two pieces during the competition: the traditional piece Soldier's Joy, and the first part of Book 1 of German composer Hans Sitt's 100 Etudes, Op. 32.

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Joshua Chia, Chin Hooi Lee and Boon Yao Hong with the RoboFiddler
Photo by David Ellis

Joshua Chia, Chin Hooi Lee and Boon Yao Hong with the RoboFiddler
Photo by David Ellis

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