As It Happens

Georgia Tech researchers use prosthetic arm to make 3-armed drummers

A team of researchers at Georgia Tech's Center for Music Technology is now using a cyborg drumming arm they first created as a prosthetic as a third arm for drummers.
The research group has designed a prosthetic that would allow drummers to have a third arm. (Georgia Tech)

They developed it to replace a drummer's arm. But now, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are using thei prosthetic limb they created to allows drummers to play with three arms.

 "It has a mind of its own, this is something that can be inspiring and surprising to drummers."- Gil Weinberg

Gil Weinberg, head of the project, tells As It Happens host Carol Off that the future is limitless, not only for musicians, but everyone. "I don't know if the need exists [for a third arm], but I think once you have it, you will find that you can do all kinds of things you didn't even think you could," says Weinberg.

The third arm is attached to a drummer's shoulder. It responds to the gestures of its wearer and what it hears in the room. "The arm improvises. It listens to you and those around you," says Weinberg.

He adds, "It has a mind of its own, this is something that can be inspiring and surprising to drummers."

Gil Weinberg is the founding director of the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology (Georgia Tech)

The latest incarnation of the prosthesis is Weinberg's attempt to take what he learned from the prosthetic he first created for drummer Jason Barnes, and give it to the rest of the public. "It was important for me to try and take some of the advantages he got and make it available to everyone."

The project started in 2013, when researchers created a prosthetic limb for drummer Jason Barnes, who lost his right arm below the elbow after being electrocuted.

The prosthetic allowed him to continue his musical passion while also making him one of the fastest drummers in the world.

"We built two sticks in his arm and each can play at 20 hertz [20 hits per second,] he's become a rock star since he had this arm," says Weinberg.

The arm also knows where it is at all times in relation to the drum in terms of distance and proximity. The arm also makes sure the sticks are always parallel to the playing surface through the use of motors.

The result for the musician is that they're faster. "It's so fast that at some point, it doesn't even sound like separate hits, it sounds like a new colour of sound," says Weinberg.

Weinberg's team is now experimenting with brain wave reading technology that could make the arm react to a user's thoughts.

Applications beyond music could include assisting doctors in surgeries, or helping technicians make repairs.


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