Muro Box Prototype Designing

The design of Muro Box has been improved countless times in order to maintain the unique sound quality of traditional music boxes. This story records the design process of Muro Box, including how we collected feedback from music box lovers to revise the prototypes from 2017 to 2018. This story focuses on how we design the “box” of Muro Box, while the next story focuses on how we designed the ” mobile app” for Muro Box. These two stories also mention how Muro Box received many people’s attention before its first crowdfunding campaign in Taiwan in 2018.

How a Traditional Music Box Works

Before we explain how Muro Box was designed, let’s explore the design of a traditional music box first.

The two key components of music box are comb and cylinder, which is also called "drum" in the music box industry.

The rolling cylinder has many pins to pluck the comb of notes and produce the crystal- clear music. Where the pins are inserted on the cylinder determines what melody a music box can play. The interaction between the pins and the comb is the key of how a mechanical music box works. Our main task was designing a programmable cylinder with flexible pins to pluck the comb according to the programmed melodies uploaded by the users.

First, We Decided the Scale of the Comb

In Sep. 2016, we started the development of Muro Box. Our first step was visiting Kyooh Precision Industry Co. Ltd., the only factory of musical movement in Taiwan, to discuss the possibility of our idea. After half of a year in discussion, we made our first decision on the design of Muro Box – we decided to use Kyooh’s 20-note comb for Muro Box.

We chose the 20-note comb because it has been applied in many music boxes , which proves its reliability and quality. With this 20-note comb, Muro Box can maintain the spirit of a traditional music box and its melodious sound.

The 18-note comb is commonly used in the music box that hides the whole music box movements in its box, while the 20-note comb is commonly used in the programmable paper-strip music box.
The patented cylinder design of Muro Box
Our patented cylinder has a clutch system cluster like a car's engine. Each note of the comb is plucked by a rolling ring with 8 pins. Therefore, the basic unit of notes in Muro Box is an eighth note (quaver).

The Real Challenge: Designing a Programmable Cylinder

The real challenge lies in the design of the cylinder. In a traditional music box, each melody has its own pattern in arranging where the pins should be inserted on the cylinder. In other words, different melodies require different inserted patterns of the pins on the cylinder. Our goal is to create a music box that can play infinite songs, which means we need to make the cylinder have flexible pins so that the timing of plucking each note of the comb can be programmed.

We have spent two years designing a brand new convertible cylinder for Muro Box. If you are interested in learning more about how we designed this patented cylinder, you are welcome to read the previous story: 0-1: Muro Box from Scratch.

The following video shows that our patented cylinder is formed by 20 sets of clutch system, and each set controls the timing to pluck one note from the 20-note comb. In addition, there is solenoid in every clutch system. Once there is electricity, every set will become an independent electromagnet to rotate according to the command of an embedded micro-controller. With this design, this innovative cylinder can play any songs as long as their music ranges are within the range of our 20-note comb: C3-A5 (C4-A6 in American standard) without any semitone.

Play Video

Collect Valuable Feedback from Potential Customers to Design Muro Box

After settling down the cylinder design, our next step was finding the potential customers to consult their opinions when designing the exterior of Muro Box. Since 2017, we managed a Facebook fan page to record our product development journey and collect feedback from potential customers who liked to read our posts.

At the beginning, our prototype wasn’t attractive enough to get people read our posts, not to mention responding to our attached surveys. At that time, we could only collect responses from family and friends, which could not reflect the real customers’ opinions.

Mr. Huang, the vice manager of Kyooh Precision Industry Co. Ltd. (now has retired), gave us a plate of 18-note music box movement for free to encourage us to open DIY music box classes to find potential customers.

Thanks to the suggestion from Mr. Huang, the vice manager of the 40 year old music box manufacturer in Taiwan, we decided to open several DIY music box classes to find the customers who would pay for our DIY music box classes and then surveyed their interest in Muro Box.

We usually only had fewer than 10 students in one class in order to have more time to interact with each participant. Although preparing the class content has cost us a lot of money and time, we were glad that we could finally meet some music box lovers and collect their feedback for Muro Box during the break time.

This was the cover image of our Facebook fan page in 2017 when we have opened both DIY music box classes and music composing classes.
This is the most popular DIY music class we have opened for three times in 2017.

Findings from the DIY Music Box Classes

According to the survey responses, we realized that many Taiwanese people only focus on the beautiful or creative exterior of a music box while the most important part – the music box movement is hidden inside the box. Only a few people who have purchased music boxes at a higher price range viewed the  mechanical music box movement as the key attraction of a music box.

Hence, we decided to make Muro Box have a transparent cover on top of the patented cylinder to draw people’s attention to its rolling movement when listening to its live music performance. This became our main principle for designing the exterior of Muro Box. We hired a design studio to help us design the exterior of Muro Box in 2017. In the end, we received three proposals from the design studio.

In 2017, the design studio we hired has provided three proposals.
The Proposal C was inspired by the shape of an electronic piano.

We chose Proposal C because of three reasons. First, we found that most of the music box lovers who took our survey preferred a wooden cased music box over other materials, such as plastic, metal, and glass. They wanted to feel the warm touch from the wood. Second, making a wood case requires a smaller quantity as the minimum order when compared with making a plastic case. Third, the wood box can generate better resonating effect than other materials proposed by the design studio.

The design studio once suggested we hide all of the buttons with a touchable surface on the wooden case in Proposal C if we want to present the look of an innovative tech product. However, we did not follow this suggestion because of an interview with a music box lover. She told us that she disliked the invisible buttons on a  surface because she may not remember how to touch or slide the surface properly to control it.

We modified the original design in Proposal C to make this Muro Box prototype with a winding key because of a music box fan's suggestion.

In addition, we decided to keep the winding key of a music box because we have consulted a music box collector  Fiona. She owns more than 30 music boxes from all over the world, and she mentioned that the winding key of a music box is like a key to opening up a memory of hers. Once you turn the key of a music box, the memory associated with its music will come to life.

Therefore, we decided to keep the winding key even though Muro Box relies on electricity to play music rather than the power generated from turning the key. However, we came up with a new function for the winding key: to play the next or previous melody stored in the offline playlist of Muro Box.  Now, the users only need to turn the winding key when they want to select a melody to play from their offline playlist. This new feature will help the users enjoy the music for a longer time and keep their hands free for doing other things.

Although we learned some important suggestions for designing Muro Box from the participants of our DIY music box classes, their ideal price range cannot match with our real production cost.

At that time, when those participants could not see a mature prototype of Muro Box in class, most of them said that they would pay for less than $3000 NTD (about $100 USD) for one Muro Box in the survey. Most of them cared more about the appearance of a music box rather than its advanced functions in daily life. Therefore, we decided to find a new target audience (TA) who would appreciate our use of advanced technology and precise metal manufacturing skills for Muro Box to play many melodies.

The two early prototypes of Muro Box were presented in our classes to help the participants image how they may use this programmable music box to play their own melodies.
The two early prototypes of Muro Box were presented in our classes to help the participants image how they may use this programmable music box to play their own melodies.

Findings from Presenting the Early Prototypes of Muro Box

In 2017-2018, our office was located in Innosquare, a startup hub in New Taipei City. One day, when Innosqure held an event to attract people to watch interesting projects created by makers, we decided to present our early prototype to find a new target audience (TA) for Muro Box.

In a maker's exhibit, Dr. Feng explained how his prototype worked to a visitor interested in the technology used in Muro Box.
In a maker's exhibit, Dr. Feng explained how his prototype worked to a visitor interested in the technology used in Muro Box.

To our surprise, we ran into a maker who stayed around our booth for more than 2 hours waiting for the moment Dr. Feng had free time to talk to him. His deep interest in learning more about Muro Box, and other makers questions made us realize that our TA should be makers with great interest in mechanical design or software development.

Since this maker event, we started to share our unique learning experience when developing Muro Box. Then, our posts started capturing people’s attention. People learned from our posts that designing an app-controlled mechanical music box with good sound quality wasn’t as easy as they thought. They were excited to see how an innovative music box was developed with the use of knowledge in mechanics, electronics, software programming, and music composing. These types of knowledge really educated them.

Findings from the Responses to Our Facebook Posts

Our first successful attempt in getting people’s attention was translating an educational video made by an American professor into Chinese to explain how the music box movement works. This video was shared by many music box lovers, including two music box store owners in Taiwan.

In 2018, we also made a video to record the assembling process of our early prototype of Muro Box, which includes 144 parts. After seeing the complicated design of Muro Box, many people finally agreed with us that designing an app-controlled mechanical music box is very difficult and then they started to look forward to our first crowdfunding campaign in Taiwan.

After we received some questions from the online survey in our Facebook posts. We started to write a series of Q&A posts to answer each product-related question for our potential customers. For example,when we  received an app engineer’s question about our Application Programming Interface (API), we answered it with a creative image plus detailed explanation in our post. In this post, we explained why we will not open API for now but may open it in the future. This series of Q&A posts have received many readers’ interests in discussing Muro Box on our Facebook fan page during 2018.

For an app engineer, Muro Box can provide not just the freedom to listening to your own music, but also open the possibility to controlling a musical instrument with your own coding.
For an app engineer, Muro Box can provide not just the freedom to listening to your own music, but also open the possibility to controlling a musical instrument with your own coding.

Finalize the "Box Design" for Muro Box

Many people told us that our early prototype looked too simple. Some even said that we should add some dancing figures on Muro Box, but we cannot follow this suggestion. In fact, if we wanted to add dancing figures on Muro Box, we would have to redesign the whole cylinder in order to provide enough force to make them dance along the music. Such a big change in mechanical design will delay our product development significantly, and it will also delay the time to release Muro Box to the market. Therefore, we could only make changes on the case, and we also needed to consider how to install the music box movement firmly on its new case to avoid creating noise when playing music on Muro Box.

We provided three proposals in our Facebook post for fans to vote for their favorite one.
We provided three proposals in our Facebook post for fans to vote for their favorite one.

At the beginning, many people chose Proposal A and C because they liked to see Muro Box have a different case design compared to a traditional music box.

However, we  decided to choose Proposal B because one of the voting fans shared his knowledge about musical instruments in his reply to our post. His explanation successfully convinced other fans to support  Proposal B because the shape of box B can generate better resonance effect than the box shapes of Proposal A and C.

We made a video presenting the result of transient analysis of sound when comparing Model A and B. In short, because Model B has better sound effect, we followed the box design of Model B to continue refining its details when preparing for the pilot run production in Taiwan. If you are interested in learning more about how we refined Model B to make the final product, please read the story, “The Pilot Run Production of Muro Box.”

The next story records how we studied the users’ needs and habits carefully in order to design the mobile app for Muro Box, the world’s first app-controlled music box.

Next Story: Muro Box App Design