FAQ - History

overview, short history brainstorming..., etc..

What is algoPIC and algoFET ?

algoPIC is a microcontroller-board and algoFET FET board for algoPIC, developed building a player piano in mind, but also to be used in various robotic art projects to control motor and solenoids, use sensors, as standalone application or to be controlled by a host computer over serial or MIDI Input.

How does all start and why PIC ?

1981 I build my first computer with a 6502 cpu, today we would say it was a micro-controller, at school using a hex keyboard and a tape-data-recoder to program some Digits, ... then I got contact with KIM-1 driving an analog synthesizer at the IEM, which never worked out very well and was replaced by a 68000 board with real keyboard (not only HEX input) ... (this would go to far so shortened up) ... after also troubleshooting with 8051 and friends and some small projects I changed to Microchip PIC serie doing some motor-control for satellite dishes used as spy microphones and acoustic beam former, automatic DJs with stepper motors and so on.

In the year 2000, after some frustrating work with existing computer controlled pianos, which couldn’t play what we [1] wanted, I decided to develop a Player-piano in form of a "Vorsetzer" [2], like Trimpin [3] and other did decades ago, with features we urgently needed. So after 2 years search and experiments and studies of available sources in 2002 I had to finish the fist prototype named "Kantor", urgently needed for a concert, soldering the circuits for 88keys on matrix boards and wires. After this experience, I decided to develop my own microcontroller kit algoPIC to enhance development and get reusable parts. All of this has to be a low cost solutions, doing it beside my main time work, so a goal was to to keep it simple.

In an very early stage I had to choose a micro-controller (first try with Mitshubishi M16C and didn’t succeed: too expensive development environment). After some testing I decided to use Microchip PIC, since I has relatively cheap In Circuit Debugging and programming interface. I already lead the project MP3 Screamer with them. Also the tiny instruction set for assembler (RISC) is easy to learn and easy to write and there is the Linux development IDE Piklab , since I am used to Unix machines only use Linux since then.

To control the solenoids I used FET drivers for the needed 3 Amperes peak at 30V times 88 keys. To control the board I used a serial interface (4 times faster than MIDI was enough ;-). First version has been developed by hand-wiring, later we at Atelier Algorythmics developed and build the boards V1.

Since the great success on this project, I decided to build a little more general boards, to use them in different robotic projects. So ALGOPIC and ALGOFET as a open development project was born.

Who are the developers ?

Atelier Algorythmics exists since 1986 and is driven by Winfried Ritsch. For the algoPIC and algoFET and player pianos a lot of people helped, including artists for testing and pushing development. Peter Plessas helped me on the board of the V1 algoPIC. One main developer in charge for the electronics since 2003 has been Michael Klamminger for the V2 boards and escher with escherFET. Also involved in development has been Michael Heide and Peter Plessas for upgrade of Kantor and at last since 2009 Mauritio Nielson working on Hammer Installation Tabakscheune. Last serie for production of rheas has been assisted by Peter Innerhofer (electronics).

Some of the tests has been made at the IEM but most in Atelier Algorytmics in Graz and concerts around the world. Thanks also Thomas Musil and others for hands and thoughts.

[1]Peter Ablinger and me trying to get a piano to speak
[2]see also Documentation on Autoklavierspieler
[3]Gerhard Trimpin, a sculptor and composer who builds his own electronically controlled acoustic instruments, also build a player piano in the 80s.