Music instruments

Computer scientist combines musical instruments with prosthetic arms

Seeking a feeling of “cool” and inspired by the animated series “Fullmetal Alchemist”, an engineer has created musical instruments that can be worn as prosthetic arms.

Kaito Hatakeyama, 28, from Chiba Prefecture, studied machine engineering at a technical college before enrolling in Keio University’s Graduate School of Media Design.

When he heard a disabled person say that it was difficult to play music, Hatakeyama came up with the idea of ​​combining musical instruments with artificial limbs.

He yearned for cool-looking prosthetics that could be freely manipulated, like the “automail” limbs featured in “Fullmetal Alchemist.”

Using his sound design experience as a member of a musical group, Hatakeyama started the project in 2017. He continued to make improvements through interviews with around 20 users.

The project, conducted while Hatakeyama was working at an IT company, resulted in the MusiArm series of instruments for people with disabilities.

Currently, six models, including string, percussion and keyboard instruments, are available for people who have lost their forearms. Weighing 800 grams or less, they can each be played with the opposite hand.

Some of the MusiArm instruments are on display at the “You and the Robots” exhibition taking place at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) in Tokyo’s Koto district. The Asahi Shimbun is one of the organizers of the exhibition.

The instruments were also used in the closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games in Tokyo last year.

Hatakeyama’s interest in developing prosthetics dates back to his childhood, when he saw a TV program about children who lost limbs to landmines. He wanted to make prosthetics for them so they could play outside like he and his friends did.

For MusiArm members, Hatakeyama was keen on making the instruments easy to play.

The guitar creates sounds when rubber strings are pressed and changes pitch when the instrument is tilted.

The trombone is played by sliding the case that accompanies it.

“I may be able to make a prosthetic arm that the wearer can use to play darts and a prosthetic foot that can be used as a musical instrument,” he said. “I don’t want people to have to give up on their dreams. I want to help them become what they want to be.