Feb. 24, 2012 at 1:56 PM ET
"Air Guitar Hero," is the creation of biomechanical engineer Robert Armiger and surgical roboticist Carol Reiley, of Johns Hopkins University. It translates the impulses that happen between a muscle and the brain in the form of a guitar strum.
It was conceived as a fun and playful exercise for those who have lost an upper appendage. As Make Magazine reports, the original version was costly, so a far less expensive, do it yourself alternative was developed.
This newer version requires a Wii console, a hacked version of both Guitar Hero and one of its controllers, electrodes, amplifiers, a USB video capture device, and a computer. Here's a basic explanation of how it all works, which kicks off the project guide:
When a muscle contracts or flexes, it produces electrical activity. While faint (in the millivolt range), these signals can be detected by placing electrode sensors on the skin. The technology to measure, evaluate, and process muscular electricity is called electromyography (EMG).
Air Guitar Hero uses EMG to send signals to the Wii console to control the game. But since the electrical signal generated by twiddling your fingers is very weak, additional computation must be performed to generate reliably accurate commands. The system uses pattern recognition algorithms to identify patterns in the EMG signals and decide which colored button to activate.
The algorithms require training data to provide examples of what signal characteristics to look for. First, you must correctly play on-screen notes with the guitar while the electrodes record your EMG signals. Next, the recorded data is used to train a model for recognition the next time you make those movement patterns. Third, practice makes perfect! Playing this type of video game can be useful for building muscle tone and dexterity.
"Air Guitar Hero" is the third example of a video game offering medical benefits in just two days. It joins yesterday's report of how massively multiplayer online games can help the elderly, and how first person shooters can aid those with rare eye disorders.
One of the strengths of video games has been its ability to entertain and even empower the player. Something that many are not able to enjoy due to handicaps, so it's encouraging to know a game can be modified and made accessible to a wider audience. Even better is how it can help with the process of rehabilitation, which under normal circumstances can be costly, dull, even painful.
Matthew Hawkins is an NYC-based game journalist who has also written for EGM, GameSetWatch, Gamasutra, Giant Robot, and numerous others. He also self-publishes his own game culture zine, is part of Attract Mode, and co-hosts The Fangamer Podcast. You can keep tabs on him via Twitter, or his personal home-base, FORT90.com.