Bionic arm helps amputee drummer customize his beats

Posted at 4:06 PM, Mar 07, 2014

Jason Barnes always wanted to be a professional drummer, but after he lost his arm in a freak accident he thought his dream was over.

Now, thanks to a brand new robotic arm he’s getting a second chance, according to New Scientist.

Barns built a simple drumming device out of a brace and some springs that attached to his arm and was able to enroll at the Atlanta Institute of Music and Media in Georgia.

Video: Drummer with no hands performs Foo Fighters cover

While there he studied with drum instructor Eric Sanders, Sanders and Gil Weinberg at the Georgia Institute of Technology came up with a plan to build Barnes a robotic arm that would allow him to play just as well as any human drummer – or perhaps even better.

For Barnes, the device needed to be able to take cues from the human body. The lab designed a prosthesis that uses a technique called electromyography to pick up on electrical signals in the upper arm muscles. By tensing his biceps, Barnes controls a small motor that changes how tightly the prosthetic arm grips the drumstick and how quickly it moves, vital skills for a drummer.

The researchers then added another layer of complexity: a second, autonomous drumstick on the robot arm (see photo). This second stick, controlled via its own motor, uses a microphone and an accelerometer to sense the rhythm Barnes is playing, as well as music from any nearby musicians. An algorithm then produces a new beat with a complementary rhythm and melody, modeled on the music of jazz greats like John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk.

With this extra artificial intelligence, human and machine combine to make Barnes a kind of “superhuman drummer”, Weinberg says.

Read more at New Scientist.