Popular Science

Alumni Invention Receives Top Honors
May 08, 2013

Becoming a musician takes years of dedication and practice, but thanks to an invention by a WPI alumnus, getting a taste of that experience may be more accessible in the near future. Dan Sullivan ’77, president, CEO, and CTO of Zivix LLC, developed a product called the JamStik, an electronic guitar-like device capable of creating original music through applications, while also teaching the fundamentals of guitar.

Sullivan’s new creation recently garnered the attention of Popular Science, which named it one of its top inventions worldwide in 2013.

“We were surprised by the recognition—it was a great honor,” Sullivan says. “JamStik is a fun way to get people involved with music in a new technology, and it’s a technical challenge to get all the pieces working together, and I think that’s what [Popular Science] looked at.”

The most innovative measure of JamStik, compared to other simulative instruments, is the string and finger board feature, which gives users the feel of a conventional guitar playing experience. A pair of microprocessors within the guitar recognizes the plucking and finger placement, due to a patented sensor, and sends this information to the mobile device and apps through a WIFI module, where users can perform music.

“People like music, and a lot of them have mobile devices,” Sullivan says. “The goal was to make learning music fun and easy. Make it more like a video game where you have all these levels, and make it interactive.”

The device is compatible with a number of common apps, including Garage Jam, but the group is in the process of enhancing apps specifically for JamStik. JamTutor gives users the ability to learn chords and melodies, and just as important for beginners, teaches the fundamentals of finger placement through corrective measures. JamMix allows players to manipulate sounds and instruments, and has beginner and advanced levels.

“The purpose of JamMix is to get people engaged in music,” Sullivan says. “It has a lot of songs broken up into pieces, when recombined, you get that experience of playing live musical interaction, and you can jam without even knowing what the notes are.”

WPI provided an opportunity for Sullivan to develop his passion, when as an upperclassman he participated in the exchange program in London. Sullivan, who graduated with a bachelor’s in electrical engineering, combined the educational experience overseas with the opportunity at performing live music.

“I really had a great experience at WPI,” Sullivan says. “It encouraged independence and thinking, and an entrepreneurial attitude.”

After his trip across the pond, he sought work combining engineering and music, and went on to invent a synthesizer; but due to investor hesitancy the product never got off the ground. Motivated by his past experience, he opted to rekindle his passion for music and technology, which led to his latest invention.

JamStik is in its developmental phase, and Zivix is hoping to begin distribution for the coming holiday season. To learn more and view the product’s website, visit http://jamstik.com/home.html.

By Matt Stewart