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The Humming Box

Hum, Insert, Crank to Create your Melody 


Product Design | AI | Physical Computation | Rapid Prototype | UX research | Research Paper


Arduino MKR Zero | NeoPixel | Rotary Encoder

Key Switch | Wood | Acrylic | MIDI | GarageBand


Prototyping: 3 Month (Part-time)

Research Paper: 1 Month (Part-time)


C | Laster Cutter | Acrylic Heat Bender | Drills | AI (Pitch Detection) | Sketch | LaTex

Logo_App Icon Main - 1024x1024.png
Logo_App Icon Main - 1024x1024.png

Humming Box is a simple and playful smart toy designed for 4-6-year-old children. It allows them to create, remix, and perform their melody or the music they like – through the interaction of hum, card insert and crank.  


             The Barrier of Music Composition


Traditional music composing training presents a high barrier of entry due to additional cost, time, money, and effort in fundamental music education.

How can we provide a tool for young children to encourage their music composition passion without a steep learning curve?  

        Children's Well-being



Children's increasing screen time and monotonous interaction habits in the digital era raised our concern.

Read more about the effects of screentime on the health and well-being of children.


As of Oct 2019, thanks to our amazing technical expert Chunhan's hard works, our project achieved an AI-powered pitch-detection feature through a web-based service – which allows our users to sing/hum a melody and crank out their own creation of music. 


Music education benefits children's mental and intellectual development in early childhood.


Guided by child-centered design principles, we propose "Humming Box", an AI-powered tangible music toy for 4-6-year-old children. The main goal of our project is to blend traditional hand crank music boxes with software-based music manipulation and create new possibilities for children to create and remix music manually.


Our project presents findings from 3 design sprints; each demonstrating playtest results and new design iterations. The user evaluation of our final design suggests that multimodal musical creation leads to increased engagement. We also discuss how the modular design of our toy's functional components encourages creative expression and cooperative play.


All members contributed to concept development, user research, interaction design, usability tests, technical troubleshooting, and research paper writing. 


Ideation:  humming to cranking interaction, card insert interaction 

Mechanism: card insert mechanism, cranking mechanism   
Technology: MIDI USB to GarageBand, rotary encoder reading,

                       pitch detection research
Fabrication:  instrument card design, card Holder, box 

Visual: demo video editing, visual system design, icon retouch



Chunhan Chen - Code structure, NeoPixel animation, card insert detection, rotary encoder stabilization, MIDI notes, keyboard control, Pitch detection algorithm exploration; cranking handle fabrication; Icon.


Yihan Tang - NeoPixel connection; Box surface design and fabrication; Card design perfection, NeoPixel holder & box body fabrication; video retouch 


Advisor: Stefania Druga – Hacking Smart Toy for AI Learning

Special Thanks: Daniel Shiffman, Tom Igoe and the ITP residents who provided insight and expertise that greatly assisted our research and technical issues.  

Design & Research

1. 3 iterations of functional prototypes

2. ~ 50 children playtest participant

3. ~ 100 teens & adult playtest & feedback. 

4. ~ 20+ expert review and insight


1. Crank interaction to MIDI signal and NeoPixel 

2. Card Insert to MIDI USB 

Research Paper – CHI PLAY 2019:

Published in ACM CHI PLAY '19 Extended Abstracts Exhibition at CHI PLAY 2019 in Barcelona, Spain 


Not Included

1. Experience research of human voice pitch detection to MIDI notes (AI) – updated on Oct 2019 

2. The appearance design of humming box (for children)

3. Tangible Interaction of hum to midi (now is web-based)

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