Now, A Song In The Key of Ponies

You Don’t Need An Excuse To Want This “Zoolophone”


Zoolophones. Yes, they are the adorable animal-shaped musical metallophones of your dreams…And they’re 3D printed.

Engineers at Columbia University have worked extensively to find the perfect algorithm for designing items with specific acoustic qualities. The beautifully printed Zoolophone is proof of their work. In the past, it has been very hard to create the correct sound without ample tuning. As a result, Metallophones (like xylophones) are often produced in the same familiar form: metal bars of roughly the same size.

And what sound does this animal make? (Image: Columbia University)
And what sound does this animal make? (Image: Columbia University)

But what if you want a pony-shaped metallophone? That’s why these engineers found an algorithm that enables users to create metallophones in various shapes and sizes, and 3D print them. To prove their point, the team printed their Zoolophone, creating different sounds in the shapes of turtles, lions, and giraffes. Once all of the parameters are entered into the system (Material, input shape, impact location and desired sound spectrum) the details are matched with isotrophic scaling optimization. You can even 3D print a shape that produces a chord when played – that’s a totally new addition to the metallophone world.

At first glance, it looks like an interesting step forward for both the music and printing community. However, the creation’s importance does not, by any means, end there.

Changxi Zheng, who headed the research team, did not do all this work just for a kooky toy. Rather, controlling the acoustic vibration of an object has major consumer uses.

“Our algorithm could lead to ways to build less noisy computer fans, bridges that don’t amplify vibrations under stress, and advance the construction of micro-electro-mechanical resonators whose vibration modes are of great importance.”

While the zoolophone itself may never become a best-selling (or printing) kids’ toy, the algorithm could lead to great changes in the field of sound. It should come as no surprise, then, that the project was also supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Intel, at Harvard and MIT by NSF, Air Force Research Laboratory, and DARPA.