Cyborg drummer jams out with dual-drumstick robo arm

Credit: NBC

Two years ago, as he was cleaning an air vent hood at work, Jason Barnes was struck by a freak jolt of electricity. The accident wasn't fatal, but he did end up losing part of his right arm. An aspiring drummer, Barnes was thunderstruck. He refused to give up, cobbling together his own make-shift drumming hand out of a brace and some springs.

The hand didn't work perfectly, but through perseverance Barnes was able to secure himself acceptance to the Atlanta Institute of Music and Media. Little did Barnes know at the time, but his life was about to change for the better. He was about to become super-human.

At the institute, Barnes and his makeshift hand got drumming instructor Eric Sanders thinking. Sanders knew of a man who could remake Barnes hand. He could make it better, faster. Gil Weinberg, at Georgia Tech, was in the business of building robot drummers, but Barnes would be his first cyborg.

Last week, man and machine were put together for the first time. The robotic hand features a pair of drumsticks, doubling the amount of notes Barnes can drum out with one hand. It can both take cues from his muscles and improvise on its own; listening with a built-in microphone to the rhythm of Barnes and his bandmates to create complimentary melodies. An algorithm even models these robotic riffs off of jazz greats like Coltrane and Buddy Rich.

As for Barnes, he loved the experience, stating that if it proved reliable, he'd swap his current drumming hand for the robotic one in a heartbeat. After the session, the world's first cyborg drummer also admmitted: "I have a lot of work to do."

Georgia Tech, via NBC and New Scientist

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