What is a SpiderHarp?
Onstage, a robot spider sits in the middle of a larger-than-life web constructed out of steel and orange parachute cord, silently listening through its feet. A musician walks onto the stage, sits down, and begins to pluck the strings like a harpist, filling the room with enchanting sounds and haunting melodies. Its a seamless collaboration between the human performer; the robot spider, which translates plucks into location, distance, and intensity data; and custom music software that transforms this data into melodies, harmonies, and rhythms.
It’s now known that many kinds of spiders listen to the vibrations of webs through their feet to detect prey and determine friend or foe. Some tune the strings of their web to provide better information about where and how far away on the web something is. SpiderHarp started as a large-scale model of an orb spider’s web, with the aim of uncovering the mystery of how spiders sense these vibrations and how it translates into information the spider uses to localize activity on its web. This work was made possible with support from the National Science Foundation, under the Physics of Living Systems program, grant #1504428.
Dr. Ross Hatton, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Robotics at Oregon State University (OSU) and his graduate student, Andrew Otto collaborated with biologists at the University of California, Berkeley (who study real-life spiders) to construct this large-scale model and robot spider in hopes of revealing the mechanisms that the real-life counterparts in nature use to detect activity on their web through vibrations. Dr. Chet Udell, Assistant Professor of Biological and Ecological Engineering, electronic instrument builder, and musician heard about the robot spider on NPR. Hatton and Udell randomly met at a research mixer event where the idea to transform this web into a highly expressive musical instrument became a formal collaboration.