Wireless glove teaches music, helps those with spinal cord injuries

Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a novel device called the Mobile Music Touch -- a wireless glove intended to improve motor skills in people who have suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury.

The gadget, which looks like a workout glove with a small box on its back, is meant to be used in combination with a piano. The device vibrates the wearer’s fingers, identifying which keys they are meant to play.

The glove was tested on people who had tetraplegia -- partial paralysis in their limbs. The patients had sustained their injuries a year prior to the study. During this time frame after receiving a paralyzing injury, people in rehab rarely see significant improvement in their limb movement for the rest of their lives.

However, while learning to play piano with the MMT, several patients saw improvement in their fingers’ motility.

“After our preliminary work in 2011, we suspected that the glove would have positive results for people with SCI,” Tanya Markow, a PhD graduate of Georgia Tech as well as the project’s leader, said in a release.

“But we were surprised by how much improvement they made in our study. For example, after using the glove, some participants were able to feel the texture of their bed sheets and clothes for the first time since their injury.”

Markow worked with patients with SCI over the course of eight weeks, requiring them to practice piano for 30 minutes, three times a week. Half of them wore the glove, the other half did not. Hooked up to a computer or other MP3 playing device, the MMT played a song such as Ode to Joy while the corresponding notes on the keyboard became illuminated. The glove would then vibrant the corresponding finger, signaling the wearer to tap the illuminated key.

Not only did participants practice piano with the MMT glove, but they used it in day-to-day activities as well. For two hours a day, five days a week, participants wore the glove, only feeling the vibrations – a technique that was revealed to help them learn to play piano faster.

To test the effectiveness of the glove, patients were required to perform various grabbing and sensing tests at the study’s completion. Those who used the glove performed significantly better than those who did not use the glove.