The EMMMA Concept - Applying Techniques and Technology from Model Aviation to Electronic Music

EMMMA - Electronic Music Meets Model Aviation

TLDR: This is primarily about making new kinds of MIDI controllers for electronic music using touch pins for keys, sensors for effects such as pitch bends, mod wheel and aftertouch and low latency wireless communications for cable free operation.

First about technology from model aviation. Before drones were a thing I made multicopters by hand using brushless motors, motor controllers and servos all used for model airplanes. What made multi rotor aircraft able to fly however were electronic gyroscopes (gyros) used to stabilize roll, pitch and yaw motion. Without stabilization of some kind multicopters were uncontrollable. At the time there were gyros used for model helicopters but these were only one axis to stabilize the tail and they were also quite expensive. Then some clever hobbyists had the idea to take gyros out of Wii Game Console handsets along with Arduino microcontroller boards and software (Multiwii) which made the whole concept viable. The rest is history as they say!

Since those early days of home made mulitcopters there have been many advances in sensor technology and wireless communication which have enabled a whole new consumer drone industry (love it or hate it). Now a sensor package that implements an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) for navigation costs only a few dollars compared to hundreds of dollars just a couple of years ago. Wireless communication has also been dramatically improved with the ability to transfer real-time video and sensor data over long distances (kilometres). All of this readily available technology is just begging to be used for new types of electronic music applications!


Tricopter Circa 2012


IMUs from 2023

As well as drone technology the rapid evolution of the Internet of Things has resulted in the availability of new low cost and high performance microcontrollers that are also perfect for electronic music applications. In spite of the recent global semiconductor shortage many of these new microcontrollers are readily available.

I have found after a few years of experience that the ESP32 series of microcontrollers from a relatively new semiconductor company called Espressif are the best suited for the electronic music applications that I am interested in.

As an example the ESP32-S2 and S3 Microcontrollers are ideal for electronic music applications because of the following features:

* 14 high performance touchpins using version 2 of Espressif’s touch technology.
* Higher level API to implement features like touch strips.
* Native USB support which provides the ability to have MIDI over USB.
* ESP-Now peer to peer WIFI communication with ultra low latency.
* Very low cost with modules available for ease of implementation.
* Easy to make custom PCBs or even hand wired circuit boards with a minimal number of components.
* Support for integration of a vast number of Arduino compatible libraries for many sensors and I/O devices.

It should be noted that the ESP32-S2 only has one CPU core and should this be a problem for an application the ESP32-S3 can be substituted with the only disadvantage being slightly higher cost.


ESP32-S2 Dev Board from Espressif


ESP32-S2 Dev Board from Waveshare


AtomS3 Lite from M5Stack

My best example so far of applying this technology to electronic music is the EMMMA-K which is described here EMMMA-K-v3.

In the future I intend to create additional projects that are smaller in scope to illustrate what is possible and I will publish all of that on Github.

For further information you can contact me on my contact page Contact Page