Acoustruments: Passive, Acoustically-Driven, Interactive Controls for Devices

Smartphones and other handheld devices are increasingly being employed in interactive applications that extend beyond their conventional touchscreens. For example, tangibles allow users to interact with mobile devices using physical objects both on the screen and around the device. Similarly, there is a growing class of auxiliary devices that require a smartphone to be plugged in or docked, transforming an otherwise simple object into something with rich and dynamic interactivity, as well as wireless connectivity if needed. These include appliances, such as alarm clocks and speakers, to children’s toys, audio mix decks, and even robots. The latter devices can be made less costly by relying on the “smarts” from an expensive, general-purpose computing device.

However, these auxiliary devices still require numerous components, including mechanical mechanisms, wires, ICs, PCBs and sometimes batteries. This dramatically increases manufacturing cost and reduces physical robustness. In this work, we introduce Acoustruments: low-cost, passive, and powerless mechanisms, made from plastic, that can bring rich, tangible functionality to handheld devices. The operational principles were inspired by wind instruments (e.g., slide whistles, ocarinas and flutes), which produce expressive musical output despite a simple physical design. In general, a sustained source of sound is injected into one end and various physical elements are altered to produce distinctive outputs. For example, a flute has a series of holes along its main axis that can be covered, while a trombone varies its pitch by altering the size of an in-lined cavity

This research was done in collaboration with Disney Research Pittsburgh.



Laput, G., Brockmeyer, E., Hudson, S. and Harrison, C. 2015. Acoustruments: Passive, Acoustically-Driven, Interactive Controls for Handheld Devices. In Proceedings of the 33nd Annual SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Seoul, Korea, April 18 - 23, 2015). CHI '15. ACM, New York, NY. 2161-2170.


© Chris Harrison