Bret Victor's electronics projects

Commercial Projects

Alesis Ion

My first commercial project was to create the sound synthesis engine for this pro-quality "virtual analog" keyboard. Ion received excellent reviews, and sold fairly well for a niche product.

"If I didn't know it was an analog modeling synth... I'd swear I was hearing a real analog synth." -- Sweetwater reviewer (highest possible praise)

Keyboard Key Buy (Keyboard Magazine's top award)

Alesis Ion secret hint: At the main screen, hold down (home) and (red).

Alesis Micron

This was my baby. I designed everything, and engineered all hardware and firmware.

Most synths focus on sound. I focused on music -- making it easy and fun to create musical phrases and drum beats, mash them together, and play around.

Micron received excellent reviews, and has been a best-seller for Alesis.

Keyboard Key Buy (Keyboard Magazine's top award, again!)

"This is an amazing synth and I don't know what I'd do without it .. it has become one of my most loved synths, ever. The best synth I've ever bought, no question." "For the price, I don't think anything else comes close to it." "This is the best VA made to this day, no question." "It blows my mind what it is that I'm capable of doing with it." "Very cleverly designed... Incredible value. Sounds GREAT and affordable. FUN is back for me. I'd like to tell the designers how great of a job they did. I love this keyboard." "Oh yes, this machine is the VERY BEST in VA synth history... Thank you, Alesis, for makin' the greatest synth of the 21st century!" "I love this synth. My new secret weapon!" "This thing blows me away!!" "The system is very smooth once you get going. Really pretty ingenious. I really liked everything about it..." "It has a great interface, much better than any mini synth I've used. Alesis really impresses me, both with the Ion and the Micron, in that they have ingenious designs." "For the price, this synth is untouchable."

Alesis Micron secret hint: while turning it on, hold down (octave +) and (programs).

Alesis Fusion

I created the sound engine for this multi-synth workstation. It features ultra-high polyphony sample playback, 100% alias-free analog modeling, and freely-routable FM. Fusion reviewed and sold poorly, because it didn't work very well and was unpleasant to use. but it sounded great!

"Premium sound quality" "Deadly analog modeling section" "Stratospheric polyphony ceiling" -- Keyboard Magazine

Personal Projects


Doors in the caltech houses use five-button combo locks. Punch buttons. Turn latch. One of my first projects was a device to crack the locks by trying all possible combos. Stepper motor turns latch. Solenoids punch buttons. Sensor detects success. It requires a 12V RC-car battery and a lot of patience.

Air Guitar

My senior project at Caltech was an electronic air guitar. Bend a finger to pluck one of four "strings". Curl a finger to slide between notes. Distance between hands determines "fret". LCD shows what notes you're on. This box goes in your left hand. This glove goes on your right hand. The guitar sound is synthesized with sample playback. distance is measured ultrasonically.

Coke Machine

Start with an ordinary Coke Machine. Add an LED display and clock display in the window. Modify or rebuild the machine's guts, for complete control over button pushes, coin deposits, soda dispensing, and coin returns. write a firmware operating system and drivers, so the machine acts as a computer peripheral. design a software api, so everyone can write programs for the coke machine. applications: buy cokes on account by punching in a "password", play games, check email, buy cokes over the web...

The coke machine was first hacked by Walter Brisken with Blake Jones. Contributors to my revamp included Steve Ginzburg, Jeremy Boulton, Peter Maresh, and Andy Griffin.

LED Matrix

I had a bunch of LEDs lying around. So, I built a 30 x 7 LED display... ... And designed a full-custom VLSI graphics processor to drive it. (supports 4-bit color depth, 16 shades of red) But the chip didn't get fabbed, so I hooked the display to my parallel port. (software-driven 2-bit color depth) Later, I gutted the circuitry again to use it as the Coke Machine display. (firmware-driven 3-bit color depth) It was even embedded into a wall of my room as part of my ditch day stack. This little display has really gotten around.

Networked Air conditioner

There's nothing worse than walking into a hot, stuffy apartment during a humid Philadelpha summer. My then-girlfriend wished she could turn on her air conditioner from work.

Call home, and let the answering machine pick up. Punch in a code. A/C hears code and turns on!

When you are with a EE, be careful what you wish for.

Microphone listens for touch tones. IR LED turns on A/C from across the room, by mimicking the remote control.

I gave it to her for her birthday. the digits of her birthday were the secret code.

Mailbox Flag

I used to live at the top of a hill. The mailbox was at the bottom. Getting the mail was quite a hike. My roommates and I often wanted to know whether the mail had come, and if so, whether someone else had already grabbed it. Light sensor inside box detects mail. Motor flips up a flag when mail is inside. Motor flips the flag back down when mail is removed. One day, the landlords replaced the mailbox. I had to retrieve this project from the dumpster.