Albertans design new way of playing the harp, using lasers

A group of aspiring engineering technologists in Alberta have created a twist on an old classic. The harp is a large musical instrument that can be cumbersome, but a trio of 20-somethings invented a more portable way of making that music.

Kathryn Talabucon, Jahziel Ortega and Rohnin Menezes teamed up for the end of the year school project.

Rohnin, Jahziel and Kathryn.
Rohnin, Jahziel and Kathryn. Jill Croteau/Global News

“It was for our end of term project at SAIT and we wanted to build it because it was musical and unique,” Ortega said.

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It may just look like some circuit board and wires. but their laser harp makes some sweet sounds.

“It’s driven by lasers that point light sensors and they can detect when its broken so when you block a beam it makes sound,” Menezes said.

The laser harp.
The laser harp. Jill Croteau/Global News

“You don’t have to deal with rusty or old broken strings like a traditional harp, you can change octaves and change the volume,” Ortega said.

“And there’s an LCD that tells you what note you are playing and you can record and save the songs you like,” Talabucon said.

None of them are classically trained musicians but admit they wanted to create a product that blends science and technology with music.

“It’s creative and innovative and not many people in the class were doing something like this,” Menezes said.

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“Many were building things like heart rate sensors and security systems and we wanted to make something fun.”

Talabucon and Ortega are members of the Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta (ASET).

ASET CEO, Barry Cavanaugh, said he is proud of these former students.

“I was taken with the idea that anybody would even think of it,” Cavanaugh said.

“A laser harp? I want to see this. It evokes that kind of curiosity.”

“These are talented young people and I don’t think they calculated the impact this would have on some of us,” Cavanaugh said.

The aspiring engineering technologists won a national technology award. They received third prize in the Technology Accreditation Canada (TAC) 2020 Technology Report Contest. ASET is one of the original founders of TAC.

They also overcame the adversity of creating this at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.  After school shut down, they built pieces separately and met virtually.

“That’s who our people are. Behind a lot of the things that are working right now in this pandemic is the capability and innovation of ASET members,” Cavanaugh said. “They are visible to me, but not visible to most people, but they are running everything and fixing everything and creating new solutions for all kinds of things.”

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