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This Prosthetic Hand Lets a Drummer Play Again

“I’ll bet a lot of metal drummers might be jealous of what I can do now,” he said. “Speed is good. Faster is always better”

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Two years ago, Jason Barnes lost his right arm below the elbow. Before his accident, he was a drummer, and as soon as he recovered he began building himself a new hand for drumming. But it didn't work that well. It wasn’t very flexible. He could bang the drums by moving his elbow up and down, but couldn’t control the speed or bounce of the stick without a wrist or fingers,” Jason Maderer writes in the Georgia Tech press release. But now, a new prosthetic attachment developed at Georgia Tech, is helping him get back behind the kit. You can see, and hear, Barnes drumming with the new sticks in the video above.

This isn’t a new prosthetic hand that lets him grip drumsticks, but rather a little robot that attaches to his arm. The robot drumming prosthesis has two drum sticks attached, one controlled by the musician's arm and the other controlled by the processor in the robot. The idea being that the second stick “listens” to what the drummer is playing and improvises with him. “Now I can flex and send signals to a computer that tightens or loosens the stick and controls the rebound,” Barnes told the Georgia Tech team

Gil Weinberg, the mind behind the drumming robot hand, has already created a whole band of robot musicians. But this is the first time he’s bridged the robot-human gap. “Jason can pull the robotic stick away from the drum when he wants to be fully in control,” Weinberg says in the press release. “Or he can allow it to play on its own and be surprised and inspired by his own arm responding to his drumming.”  

Barnes will perform for the first time with the robot hand on March 22nd at the Bailey Performance Center at Kennesaw State University, where he’s ready to show off his skills. “I’ll bet a lot of metal drummers might be jealous of what I can do now,” he said. “Speed is good. Faster is always better.”

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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