Loud Cane 2.0

  • Leather and fabric modeling amplifier next to a vertical white cane with a contact microphone and wireless transmitter strapped to it
  • Short black cable with a red 3d-printed tube with strap holes attached to one end
  • Purple 3d-printed tube with holes for a rubber-coated strap
  • Closeup view of a clip-on contact microphone clipped onto the end of a white cane with a pencil tip

Loud Cane 2.0 is a redesign of the Loud Cane 1.0, or the Acoustic Mobility Device, a white cane-turned-musical instrument developed as a collaboration between Olin College and artist Carmen Papalia in 2015. The original device consisted of a custom-made cane with a contact microphone embedded in the tip, a belt with modified guitar effect pedals to modulate the sound from the cane, and a large guitar amplifier to output the sound. With the original device, Carmen could tap or slide the cane along different textured surfaces to capture sounds and adjust them using the effects on the belt. For listeners during a performance, the end result was similar to experimental noise music. Although the system functioned, the heavy belt and long cables connecting components made the device cumbersome to use, and the the system eventually failed and has not been repaired.

For Loud Cane 2.0, we set out to simplify the system to make it easier to use, travel with, and repair. The device consists of two main components: a Spark 40 modeling amplifier from Positive Grid, and a modular cane mount. Using a modeling amplifier, which includes built-in effects, allowed us to remove the modulation belt entirely, instead connecting the cane and amplifier directly.

The Spark 40 amplifier is one of few modeling amplifiers to not rely on a screen for interfacing with the device, instead using a combination of physical knobs, preset buttons, and a smartphone app for more control. The cane is designed to be used without vision, so physical controls and the most screenreader-accessible app made this particular amplifier the best choice for the project. Although the app is the most screenreader-accessible one we found, it is still barely usable. However, there is an open-source webapp compatible with the amplifier which we were able to modify to increase its accessibility.

The base of the modular cane mount is a 3D-printed mount with a 1/4″ coupler embedded in it. The back of the mount curves to help increase contact area with white canes of typical diameters. The mount is mostly designed for mobility canes, and has been tested with 1/2″ to 3/4″ cane diameters. a 3/8″ diameter ID cane could work but has not been tested. A gel-coated, non-slip, strap runs through loops on the mount and can be pulled tight against the cane, with the gel helping to keep the mount from slipping down. We found that non-slip Velcro straps for RC airplane batteries worked best for keeping the mount in place. A simple-to-use wireless transmitter plugs into the top of the mount, and a clip-on contact microphone plugs into the bottom. The microphone is then clipped onto the tip of the cane and the cable secured with small Velcro straps. Using an off-the-shelf wireless system and microphone allow both parts to be replaced if they fail, and the cane includes two extra cane mounts in case the original breaks.