Scientists have created a hands-free musical instrument that allows people to play music with their thoughts, and may help empower and rehabilitate patients with motor disabilities such as stoke, spinal cord injury and amputation.
The instrument called Encephalophone collects brain signals through a cap that transforms specific signals into musical notes. It is coupled with a synthesiser, allowing the user to create music using a wide variety of instrumental sounds. Researchers from University of Washington in the US showed that trial group of 15 healthy adults was able to use the instrument to correctly recreate musical tones, with no prior training.
The instrument can be controlled via two independent types of brain signals: either those associated with the visual cortex (ie closing ones eyes), or those associated with thinking about movement, they said. "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," said Thomas Deuel, neuroscientist at University of Washington.
Researchers found that these first subjects did quite well, way above chance probability on their very first try. The team noted that for this small group of novice users, control by eye closing is more accurate than control by imagining movements. The Encephalophone is based on brain-computer interfaces using an old method, called electroencephalography, which measures electrical signals in the brain, researchers said.
"I am a musician and neurologist, and I have seen many patients who played music prior to their stroke or other motor impairment, who can no longer play an instrument," Deuel said. "I thought it would be great to use a brain-computer instrument to enable patients to play music again without requiring movement," he said. "There is great potential for the Encephalophone to hopefully improve rehabilitation of stroke patients and those with motor disabilities," Deuel added.
The research was published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.