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Moments of Innovation

Cyborg prosthetic lets drummer find his rhythm

Thursday, June 05, 2014 - 03:14

June 6 - An Atlanta drum student is breaking new rhythmic ground with a robotic prosthetic fitted to replace his amputated lower right arm. Jason Barnes lost the arm in an accident two years ago, but with his specially designed prosthetic, the young musician is grooving to a new beat. Ben Gruber has more.

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An Atlanta drum student is breaking new rhythmic ground with a robotic prosthetic fitted to replace his amputated lower right arm. Jason Barnes lost the arm in an accident two years ago, but with his specially designed prosthetic, the young musician is grooving to a new beat. Ben Gruber has more. (UPSOUND - JASON BARNES DRUMMING) Jason Barnes is working on a new song. Along with a soundtrack, he's being accompanied by a robotic prosthetic that has a musical brain of its own. (MORE UPSOUND) Barnes has been playing music his entire life. But two years ago an accident left his future as a musician in limbo… (SOUNDBITE) (English) JASON BARNES, AMPUTEE DRUMMER, SAYING: "I was at work and I don't really remember anything but apparently some electricity arced off of some power lines on to a pole I was holding and I woke up in a hospital and I was just cooked. I didn't really know what happened and people were like 'yeah you got electrocuted." The accident destroyed the nervous system and blood supply to Jason's right arm, forcing doctors to amputate just below the elbow. But despite his disability, Jason decided to pursue his dreams and enlisted the help of Georgia Tech's Gil Weinberg. Weinberg has spent his entire career building musical robots and, for Jason, saw an opportunity to create something special…so he set about building a machine that is part prosthetic and part robot - making Jason Barnes the world's first cyborg drummer. To achieve his goal Weinberg designed the cyborg prosthetic with two drum sticks. (SOUNDBITE) (English) GIL WEINBERG, DIRECTOR OF GEORGIA TECH CENTER FOR MUSIC TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "So the first stick is just about that. It is about taking signals from his muscles with EMG and allows him to control the grip of the drum stick to create the kind of sounds that he wants." And the second stick, according to Weinberg, has a mind of its own. It is powered by algorithms that enable it to translate music into real time, improvisational rhythm. Jason says said it has taken some getting used to. (SOUNDBITE) (English) JASON BARNES, AMPUTEE DRUMMER, SAYING: "It has a lot of potential to create a bunch of things that people have never heard before because there are certain things it can do that are not human possible." Weinberg says the robot/human combo could potentially lead to a new genre of music. (SOUNDBITE) (English) GIL WEINBERG, DIRECTOR OF GEORGIA TECH CENTER FOR MUSIC TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "With Cyborgs we are actually trying not only to imitate Humans behavior but extend it and expand it and see what else can be done. And of course it is a little scary if you see a lot of Schwarzenegger movies, cyborgs can be dangerous but I focus on music. And how dangerous can it be, the music will suck." One thing is for certain - the music definitely does not suck. Weinberg has plans to fine tune the prosthetic, possibly enabling it with a neural interface so it can be controlled by thought and not just muscle movement. As for Jason Barnes, his plans are simpler - he says he just wants to play awesome music, a goal now achievable thanks to technology and his will to succeed.

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Cyborg prosthetic lets drummer find his rhythm

Thursday, June 05, 2014 - 03:14