Bristol researchers bridge the gap between music and engineering with robotic harp

Structural data collected from the Clifton Suspension bridge has been used to develop a musical harp installation
27th October 2017

The Clifton Suspension Bridge, one of the most majestic features of Bristol, has been turned into a musical instrument as part of a project developed by the Jean Golding Institute at the University of Bristol – which supports interdisciplinary research in data science.

Capable of playing music composed from its own structural data – including how the bridge moves and the impact on it from vehicles, pedestrians and the weather – the specially made instrument, a double-strung harp, is played with two robotic arms, each strumming the strings on different sides to represent data collected on the north and south sides of the bridge and at the bridge’s natural  frequency of 12.9Hz.

“Aside from the harp offering a visual and audio experience, it embodies important research”

 

The data was collected over several weeks with the use of advanced sensors that can be scaled up in future to measure vibrations and displacements on far larger bridges – measuring possible ageing or fatigue.

Bristol-based musicians and sound artists Yas Clarke and Lorenzo Prati were put in charge of creating the installation to sonically represent this structural data which was demonstrated during Bristol Digital Week.

You can check out a video from Bristol University tweeted ahead of the demo below:

 

 

Sam Gunner, an Engineering Mathematics PhD student who has led the project, says: “To see our research represented in this way is really remarkable. The Clifton Suspension Bridge is a much-loved sight and now people can both see and hear it in a new light.

“Aside from the harp offering a visual and audio experience, it embodies important research which allows us to better understand how the bridge moves.”

The harp certainly doesn’t indicate an end to the project however, as its team created software that allows data from the bridge to be displayed to structural engineers or bridge management personnel in real-time, anywhere in the world – and the data is currently being used by engineers at the University to improve structural models of the bridge and to design a system to classify vehicle traffic.

You can find out more about the harp on the University of Bristol website or by following the Jean Golding Institute on Twitter here: @JGIBristol.