R & D Update!

There’s been a lot going on since our last update at the end of June with our Innovate UK funded R&D project! 

The server is now running in super top condition, our hardware device has been designed, christened Autonomous Noise Unit (from here on ANU!) and is in a fully global test stage and the website is under construction as we speak.

ANU logo prototype

ANU. We were pleased to discover when batting around names and acronyms for the hardware device that ANU was in fact the ancient Sumerian God of the Sky so we figured that was a good one to run with.  Alot of July & August was spent with David designing, iterating and testing functionality with Sam towards a final bespoke version of our NoisePiHat board. The plan was that this would connect seamlessly with the Raspberry Pi 4 and sound cards we had identified in the initial test stage to provide all the elements needed to make our ANU.  In the end we decided to make two variations based on the two soundcards we thought gave the most options to user. The first is the Hifiberry soundcard which gives low latency and simple to use input and outputs.

ANU with hifiberry sound card with ethernet cable connected (top left), headphone output (top centre) and mic in (left)

The second is the Pisound soundcard which adds the option of onboard volume and gain controls for the input and headphones. 

ANU with pisound soundcard with ethernet cable connected (top) mic input connected (left top) and headphone output (left bottom)

Both boards give you an OLED screen and a rotary switch so users can easily scroll and chose options. Once the unit ANU is turned on a single click will connect you straight through to our JackTrip server. There’s various settings and that can be easily tweaked by clicking and scrolling through the menu. This automation work getting JackTrip and the connection to the JackTrip Server running has been done by Sam who has done an amazing job of making the running of the software and its application for the user a really smooth and accessible experience. One of the barriers we felt right a the start of the project was the level of technical knowledge needed in setting up JackTrip so this automating this process into a push and click way that is familiar to casual technology users has been a massively important milestone for the project. It’s a really exciting innovation as the quality of audio and latency afforded by JackTrip is second to none. The whole process is documented in the Autonomous Noise Unit section of our GitHub here.

Close up of screen and button on ANU

We started running tests exploring the use of the ANU and the server system with a great team of people who were totally new to the project in September in the UK. People are really excited by the audio quality and the very low latency achievable. 

“I was blown away and amazed” CK

“It sounded amazing and felt like a new intimate way of performing” KA

“It was like being in your own private rehearsal room” GB

“We found it really straight forward to use and it felt very ‘plug and play’ which is ideal…we loved the unit, and as musicians we think it’s a great product.” LG

Home testing set up from one of our testers

We’ve found that with a distance of 200 miles (for example between Manchester and London) with good quality ethernet connection musicians are able to play in time and collaborate with each other as if they were in the same space. The server is able to output recordings of the sessions and can stream directly via an icecast link and we have begun some streaming tests to see how this can be utilised.

So far we’ve connected up to 4 locations in the UK for music making sessions: London, Manchester, Newcastle and West Wales with positive results. We have upcoming tests confirmed between the UK, Berlin, Beijing and Yogyakarta. This will really give us a chance to stretch the limits of the system and test how it can work over global distances. We know this is going to present a challenge to the low latency interaction but the question here is more about maintaining good audio quality and workable latency for collaboration over much wider distances.

screen grab of FAQs section of website currently in development

The website is currently under development with Sam and Vicky working on the coding and visual design aspects respectively. The public end is going to be an info point about the project and what we have developed so far and how it works. There’s also going to be a password protected prototype user section where we output recordings and data about sessions. Vicky has designed an awesome ANU logo for us as well as taking care of the overall design of the site.

Another area of research we still plan to open out a little before the end of the project is to explore the ease of using mobile phone 4G signal as an internet source for the ANU as this would make the devices totally portable!