Vaden plans to patent invention

At last year’s InVenture Prize competition, Sarah Vaden, a third-year AE major, took the second prize for her invention: the Pneumatically Elevated Pitch (PEP) Pedal. Though the competition’s over, the invention process is still rolling as Vaden starts to wrap up the paperwork and look toward releasing a working prototype to the market.

The PEP Pedal is a foot-powered pump that used pneumatics to change the pitch of a drum by changing its internal pressure.

“It’s a way for drummers to change the pitch of their drums while they’re playing. It lets them take a five-piece drum kit and make it sound like a 12 or 13 piece kit,” Vaden said.

Vaden, an avid drummer herself, said money is not as important to her as shifting the role of drums in music.

“My main goal isn’t to sell hundreds of thousands of units so much as to change the way music is played,” Vaden said.

Since the competition last semester, Vaden’s product has changed dramatically. Originally designed as a pedal in which the user manually pumps air into the drum, Vaden hopes the final product will have more of a digital component.

“My earlier prototype—the one I won at InVenture with—was all mechanical. It was a push-pedal/pump system. I’m trying to make that more digital and make the playing experience easier. I want to let people dial in how they want to play,” Vaden said.

According to Vaden, even with a new largely-digital interface, a foot-pedal element will still almost certainly be involved, since it will be the kind of control drummers are used to.

Despite this, Vaden said her final product will likely be much different from what viewers saw at the InVenture finals.

“The design has changed, but the prototype isn’t there yet. I’m trying to make it look like something someone would actually buy. My prototype was really rough. Really, it was just a proof of concept,” Vaden said.

As for a deadline, Vaden hopes to have a prototype ready to display for a convention in Jan.

“I’m hoping to be ready in time to take it to the NAMM show. It’s a big trade convention where all the big companies, like Yamaha and Pearl, and a lot of big musicians come. It’s a good place to get out there, explore and hopefully get picked up by one of the companies,” Vaden said.

Since InVenture, in addition to working on the digital redesign, Vaden has been wading through the patent application process in order to protect her rights to her intellectual property.

According to Vaden, the real work came after InVenture.

“[The patent process] has definitely been the most difficult part of the process. InVenture wasn’t so hard in comparison. I got my patent application done about three or four weeks into the semester, and since then it’s been a lot of trying to get the computer work done. Right now, we’re in the drafting stage and are trying to find a reasonably priced prototyper in the US,” Vaden said.

Vaden said that being “an engineer by day, musician by night,” in addition to planning her upcoming wedding has been a tricky balancing act.

Vaden interned at Boeing in Seattle this summer, meaning that much of the work on the patent had to be done long-distance.

Law firm Sutherland and Co. has been handling a lot of the legal footwork involved in patenting an invention. In addition to the actual paperwork associated with applying for a patent, Sutherland and Co. also handled the research into prior art that is more or less required for a successful patent application.

Vaden’s actual patent application is for a “pneumatic drum tuning device.”

Assuming all goes well, the patent will be approved in two to three years. In the meantime, Vaden can begin labeling her device as “patent pending” and listing the patent number, which will go a long way towards protecting the rights to her intellectual property.

The next InVenture Prize Competition, to be hosted by Miles O’ Brien, will be held on March 9, 2011.


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