Professor Gil Weinberg, founding director of the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology, has created a robotic drumming prosthesisthat can be attached to amputees’s arms and powers two drumsticks. The first stick is controlled both physically by the musicians’ arms and electronically using electromyography muscle sensors. The other stick “listens” to the music being played and improvises.
Since the second drumstick has a mind of its own, the drummer can play and improvise with a part of his arm that he doesn’t totally control, he explained. The prosthesis was created for Jason Barnes, a drummer who was electrocuted two years ago and lost his right arm below the elbow. The Atlanta Institute of Music and Media student built his own prosthetic device shortly after the accident, but it wasn’t very flexible. He could bang the drums by moving his elbow up and down, but couldn’t control the speed or bounce of the stick without a wrist or fingers.
That’s when Weinberg stepped in to create a single-stick device with sensors that responds to Barnes’ bicep muscles. Then, he took the prosthesis a step further, adding a second stick and giving it a “musical brain.”
“Now I can flex and send signals to a computer that tightens or loosens the stick and controls the rebound,” said Barnes.Because an embedded chip can control the speed of the drumsticks, the prosthesis can be programmed to play two sticks at a different rhythm. It can also move the sticks faster than humanly possible.
Weinberg says such robotic synchronization technology could potentially be used in the future by fully abled humans to control an embedded, mechanical third arm during time-sensitive operations. For example, the anticipation algorithms could be used to help astronauts or surgeons perform complex, physical tasks in synchronization with robotic devices.