Neurologists have created a hands-free and thought-controlled musical instrument, which they hope could be used as a rehabilitation tool for patients with motor disabilities as the result of a stroke, spinal cord injury, or ALS.

The instrument is described in a recent study in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

“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, in a media release from Frontiers.

“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,” Deuel adds. “I thought it would be great to use a brain-computer instrument to enable patients to play music again without requiring movement.”

The Encephalophone, developed by Duel in collaboration with Dr Felix Darvas, a physicist at the University of Washington, is designed to collect 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, the release explains.

Users can control the instrument by either closing one’s eyes or thinking about movement.

The instrument’s design is based on brain-computer interfaces using electroencephalography, which measures electrical signals in the brain. Scientists first began converting these signals into sounds in the 1930s and, later, into music in the 1960s. But these methods were still difficult to control and were not easily accessible to non-specialist users.

In a collaboration with the Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media, Deuel has built upon such research to make the Encephalophone more musically versatile, as well as easier to use, the release continues.

Duel and his collaborators are continuing to work with users to see how much they can improve with training. They also plan to begin clinical trials to test whether the Encephalophone could be a useful tool for disabled patients.

“There is great potential for the Encephalophone to hopefully improve rehabilitation of stroke patients and those with motor disabilities,” Deuel concludes, in the release.

[Source(s): Frontiers, Science Daily]