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Watch an Amputee Drummer Get an Incredible Assist From a Robotic Arm


“The second drumstick has a mind of its own.”

Other drummers may playfully call it cheating, but musician Jason Barnes now has a leg up drumstick up on the competition.

Jason lost his right arm below the elbow when he was was electrocuted in 2012. The Atlanta Institute of Music and Media student built his own prosthetic device at first, but found it wasn't very flexible.

That's when professor Gil Weinberg, director of the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology, stepped in to design an improved arm for the recent amputee, which would help him control the speed and bounce of the drumstick without the need for a wrist or fingers. Weinberg saw a video Jason sent in to his department, and the professor was determined to help.

"Jason was in a devastating accident, so when I watched the video he sent I reached out to the National Science Foundation to get a grant, and then approved it," Weinberg told TheBlaze.

The robotic arm has room for two drumsticks; one that flexes with the beat, and one that stays put. A Georgia Tech release explained:

The first stick is controlled both physically by the musicians’ arms and electronically using electromyography (EMG) muscle sensors. The other stick “listens” to the music being played and improvises.

“Now I can flex and send signals to a computer that tightens or loosens the stick and controls the rebound,” said Barnes.

The device has sensors that respond to Barnes’ bicep muscles, and he can remove the automated stick when he wants full control of the beat, but leaving it in gives him an interesting advantage.

“The second drumstick has a mind of its own,” Weinberg said. “The drummer essentially becomes a cyborg. It’s interesting to see him playing and improvising with part of his arm that he doesn’t totally control.”

The second stick — with the "musical brain" — keeps time and improvises based on the music being played, adding fills and trills galore. It’s like having a little extra hand — something most drummers have dreamed about at least once.

Before he met Barnes, Weinberg had already built a robotic percussionist and marimba player that use computer algorithms to improvise with human musicians — he just took the prosthesis a step further.

w This robotic drumming prosthesis has motors that power two drumsticks. One is controlled by muscle sensors. The other is autonomous. (Image via Georgia Tech)

Weinberg told TheBlaze the robotic prosthesis is a prototype and he plans to build a larger one, and perhaps wire the device directly to Barnes' brain by next year.

"This one will have more machine learning and creative algorithms," Weinberg said.

Barnes will show off his new drumming skills at the Atlanta Science Festival, March 22.

Check out the full video of Barnes' amazing new robotic prosthesis and some of his beats:

(H/T: TechCrunch)

Follow Elizabeth Kreft (@elizabethakreft) on Twitter

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