MUSIC

Amputee Drummer Uses Robot Arm: 'Metal Drummers Might Be Jealous'

03/21/2014 01:59 EDT | Updated 03/21/2014 03:59 EDT

Drummer Jason Barnes has a big gig at the Atlanta Science Festival on March 22. It's even bigger considering he's had to practice for it with his new robotic arm.

According to New Scientist, Barnes lost the lower portion of his right arm in 2012 due to an electric shock after cleaning a vent hood in a restaurant. However, the tragic injury didn't deter the musician, resulting in a basic drumming device using springs and a brace he would attach to his right arm.

After enrolling in the Atlanta Institute of Music and Media, Barnes met drum instructor Eric Sanders who put him in touch with Gil Weinberg, an engineer at the Georgia Institute of Technology who had previously created robots to play music. Weinberg and a group attempted to create a robotic arm for Barnes.

As shown in the YouTube clip above, Barnes tested out the device with some amazing results. Essentially Barnes has an extra drumstick he can play with the robotic arm, making one arm basically do the work two arms would do to keep time -- and making Barnes essentially the world's first three-armed drummer.

"It was pretty awesome," Barnes told the publication. "If it works out and it proves to be a lot more useful than my current prosthesis, I would definitely use it all the time."

The YouTube clips shows Barnes initially playing a jazz style with one drumstick on the robotic arm and later showing a drum roll with an additional drumstick placed on the arm. "An arm with a mind of its own," a caption on the video reads as the two sticks on the robotic arm create an intricate rhythm on a cymbal.

The arm works by taking cues from Barnes' body by using a robotic arm that detects electrical signals from Barnes' upper arm muscles. The grip of the drumstick as well as the pace played is controlled by how he tenses his bicep muscles.

The other drumstick on the arm is controlled by a motor but by using a microphone and an accelerometer is able to determine what kind of rhythm Barnes (and other nearby musicians) is playing. The music of the late jazz icons Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane was the model used for assisting the rhythm's creation.

"I'll bet a lot of metal drummers might be jealous of what I can do now," Barnes told Georgia Tech as reported by NBC News regarding the arm officially called called the Robotic Drum Prosthesis.

"In some cases, we were able to create some surprises, with music that cannot be created by humans alone," Weinberg said. "The next interesting step is to see what happens when you are part of the robot and the robot is part of you."

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