Computer Electronics

This Machine Allows Users to Make Music with Their Brain Waves

13 July 2017

Neurologists have created a hands-free, thought-controlled musical instrument. You can make music with your brain! The researchers hope that this new instrument will empower and rehabilitate patients who have motor disabilities like those from stroke, spinal cord injury, amputation or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

The Encephalophone is a musical instrument that can be played by the mind alone. (Source: University of Washington)The Encephalophone is a musical instrument that can be played by the mind alone. (Source: University of Washington)

"The Encephalophone is a musical instrument that you control with your thoughts, without movement," said Thomas Deuel, a neurologist at the Swedish Medical Center and the University of Washington, as well as first author of the report.

The Encephalophone works through collecting brain signals through a cap that then transforms some of the signals into musical notes. This musical instrument is coupled with a synthesizer which allows the user to create music with a wide variety of sounds.

Dr. Duel developed the Encephalophone in collaboration with Dr. Felix Darvas, a physicist at the University of Washington in Duel’s independent laboratory. In the first report, they talk about the development of the instrument and their initial studies that show evidence of how easily the instrument might be used. The preliminary study demonstrated a trial group of 15 healthy adults were able to use the instrument correctly with no prior training.

The Encephalophone can be controlled by two types of brain signals — the waves associated with the visual cortex (like closing the eyes) or the brain waves associated with thinking about movement. Control by thinking about movement is most useful for disabled patients. Deuel plans to continue researching this application. Current studies show that for the small group of novice users, controlling the device by eye closing was more accurate than imagining movements.

The Encephalophone is based on old brain-computer interfaces called electroencephalography. Electroencephalography measures electrical signals in the brain. Scientists began converting these signals into sounds in the 1930s and in the 1960s they started converting these signals into music. These methods were still difficult to control and not very accessible to non-specialized individuals.

Duel has built upon this research, in collaboration with the Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media (DXARTS), to make the Encephalophone easier to use and more musically versatile.

Deuel and his collaborators are working with more people to see how much users can improve with more extensive training. Deuel plans to begin clinical trials of the Encephalophone in later 2017 to see if it is useful or enjoyable for disabled patients.

This research was published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

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