If you think it, it will sing, or so the theory goes. Would you like to think music into existence? That might soon be possible.
Neurologists have created a hands-free, thought-controlled musical instrument, which they’ve recently described in a report in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. Researchers hope that this new instrument will help empower and rehabilitate patients with motor disabilities such as those from stroke, spinal cord injury, amputation, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
“The Encephalophone is a musical instrument that you control with your thoughts, without movement,” explains Thomas Deuel, a neurologist at Swedish Medical Center and a neuroscientist at the University of Washington, and first author of the report.
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“I am a musician and neurologist, and I’ve seen many patients who played music prior to their stroke or other motor impairment, who can no longer play an instrument or sing,” says Deuel. “I thought it would be great to use a brain-computer instrument to enable patients to play music again without requiring movement.”
The Encephalophone collects brain signals through a cap that transforms specific signals into musical notes. The invention is coupled with a synthesizer, allowing the user to create music using a wide variety of instrumental sounds.
Dr. Deuel originally developed the Encephalophone (patent pending) in his own independent laboratory, in collaboration with Dr. Felix Darvas, a physicist at the University of Washington. In this first report, they describe their development of the instrument, as well as their initial studies showing evidence of how easily the instrument might be used. This preliminary study showed that a trial group of 15 healthy adults were able to use the instrument to correctly recreate musical tones, with no prior training.
“We first sought to prove that novices — subjects who had no training on the Encephalophone whatsoever — could control the device with an accuracy that was better than random,” says Deuel. “These first subjects did quite well, way above chance probability on their very first try.”
Neurologists have created a hands-free, thought-controlled musical instrument. They hope that this new instrument will help empower and rehabilitate patients with motor disabilities such as those from stroke, spinal cord injury, amputation, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).