Jason Barnes lost part of his right arm in a freak accident, but he didn’t want that to derail his dream of becoming a professional drummer. So he built a makeshift drumming device for his arm out of a brace and some springs. But a Georgia Institute of Technology engineer wanted to take things to the next level, by building Barnes robotic arm that would allow him to play just as well, or better, than any drummer.
Engineer Gil Weinberg designed the prosthetic to take cues from Barnes’ body, using electromyography to detect electrical signals from upper arm muscles. To tighten the prosthetic arm’s grip on the drumstick or how quickly it moves, all Barnes has to do is flex his bicep.
Weinberg and his team even added a shorter, second drumstick to the robotic arm. This more autonomous stick is controlled by its own motor and utilizes an accelerometer and microphone to sense rhythm. An algorithm allows Barnes to create signature techniques heard on the ride cymbal, especially in jazz.
“It was pretty awesome,” Barnes told New Scientist after trying the device for the first time. “If it works out and it proves to be a lot more useful than my current prosthesis, I would definitely use it all the time.”
Though researchers want to tweak the prosthesis a bit, Barnes and his robotic arm will make their debut on March 22 in a concert at the Atlanta Science Festival. Barnes will play alongside his drum instructor at the Atlanta Institute of Music and Media and some of Weinberg’s other creations, including a dancing Robot named Shimi.
Credit: Rob Felt/Georgia Tech