Current and former students develop wireless device, freeing guitar gods (and goddesses) to roam
Who they are
After Slash, former lead guitarist for Guns 'N Roses, dramatically joined the Super Bowl XLV halftime show on a platform that rose from beneath the stage, his performance didn’t go much of anywhere. Oh, the guitar playing was fine. (The guy is a rock and roll legend after all.) But the wires connecting Slash’s electric guitar to his "wah" effects pedal wouldn’t let him move far enough to cavort with the bevy of other performers in the gala.
Will Black, Robbie Hoye and their colleagues want to set Slash — and other guitarists — free. The team of current and former Purdue students has developed a wireless wah control system, called Ghost Pedal, that also could be integrated with additional pedal-controlled music devices, such as those for stomp box effects and volume control.
What they're doing
Ghost Pedal allows a guitarist to activate and manipulate wah effects from anywhere on stage using the same motions employed with a wired pedal. The system can be calibrated to account for variations in the ways individual musicians move their feet and even for variations in their footwear.
The setup employs a sensor to track what the user is doing with his or her ankle and actively manipulate the wah level when the foot’s angle to the floor changes. Another sensor lets the musician lock in, or sustain, the effect in order to jump, run, spin or otherwise move without changing the setting and then put Ghost Pedal back in "freeplay" mode when desirable.
How they got there
Ghost Pedal was the senior design project from a group of Purdue mechanical engineering students who were intrigued when Black proposed doing a project with a musical bent. Besides Hoye, the other members of the team were Garrett Baker, Matthew Boyle, Brett Hartnagel, Christine Labelle, Adam Pflugshaupt and Nick Sannella. The group brought a diverse mix of skills to the effort. Black, for example, is a guitar junkie and Hoye also plays. Baker was interested in market research and prepared much of the background on what companies might be interested in the device and how many could potentially be sold, key to building the case for commercializing it. The students also conducted a patent search through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website to find out whether anyone had already laid claim to a similar invention.
They searched online for components such as wireless transmitters and microcontrollers that could be integrated and programmed for the project within its $500 budget. The team advanced through a series of presentations by senior design students, impressing faculty, alumni and industry judges so much that they were encouraged to try commercializing their device.
The group ended up disclosing the project to the Purdue Research Foundation and its Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC). This is a requirement for commercializing intellectual property developed at the University, but it also serves to protect Purdue’s and the developers’ rights to benefit from the innovations. OTC helped the Ghost Pedal team with filing a provisional patent for the device. The office and PRF can assist Purdue staff and student innovators in filing copyrights and trademarks as well as in setting up companies and marketing to potential commercial partners. Purdue prepared and distributed a news release and a marketing video aimed at potential licensees of the Ghost Pedal technology, among other things.
"Keep it simple," Black says. "Don’t overcomplicate things. Figure out a problem that people are having and design a simple solution."