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.
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.