Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software applications put the power of the recording and editing studio right in front of you on a computer screen. Tweaking the hundreds and hundreds of settings and parameters offered by such applications has been made easier with the addition of physical controls on a MIDI interface. But rather than be limited to a rigid set of pre-defined buttons, knobs and faders, students from the University of Applied Sciences Bremen have built a set of wireless, wooden devices with rotary dials called FlexiKnobs.
Typical audio editing software can contain hundreds of parameters and an orchestra of instruments across numerous windows which are often difficult to map to a single physical interface. MIDI controllers offer more precision for software users than a mouse but often include hardware control expressly linked to a certain, single parameter onscreen. Add that to the fact that the interface on the screen might not even look anything like the hardware controller in front of you and the idea of using motor memory to blindly operate the various buttons, faders and knobs in front of you can involve a steep learning curve.
Of course, numerous applications and MIDI controllers allow for customization but the result is far from ideal.
"To improve this, we have built a set of wireless mice enhanced with rotary knob controllers, trying to integrate the flexibility and transparency of mouse interaction with the benefits of physical controllers," say the designers of the FlexiKnob system. "Custom driver software enables the simultaneous use of multiple knobs with a large variety of unmodified standard software."
Just like a computer mouse, each wireless, wooden FlexiKnob device controls an onscreen, color-coordinated cursor which can be used to alter any software-based dial, button or slider in the DAW application. The cursor remains locked on a setting, instrument or parameter until freed by the user so if the FlexiKnob is accidentally knocked out of the way, it won't affect the device's influence over the selected control.
The system has been designed so that a number of simultaneously active FlexiKnob devices can be used within one editing environment and is said to be much more intuitive and simpler to use than a hardware MIDI controller or single mouse.
As you can see from the video demonstration below, using a set of four FlexiKnobs gives DAW users a much greater level of control over the various parameter controls on the screen and also allows for a number of users to get involved:
Kristian Gohlke, Michael Hlatky, Sebastian Heise and Joern Loviscach see future developments including the use of accelerometers to add another dimension to the interface and incorporating LEDs or small displays to offer users multimodal feedback.