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Stillfried, Georg; Stepper, Johannes; Neppl, Hannah; Vogel, Jörn and Höppner, Hannes (2018): Elastic Elements in a Wrist Prosthesis for Drumming Reduce Muscular Effort, but Increase Imprecision and Perceived Stress. In: Frontiers in Neurorobotics, Vol. 12, 9 [PDF, 1MB]


Recently, progress has been made in the development of mechanical joints with variable intrinsic stiffness, opening up the search for application areas of such variable-stiffness joints. By varying the stiffness of its joints, the resonant frequency of a system can be tuned to perform cyclical tasks most energy-efficiently, making the variable-stiffness joint a candidate element for an advanced prosthetic device specifically designed for the cyclical task of drumming. A prerequisite for a successful variable-stiffness drumming prosthesis is the ability of human drummers to profitably employ different stiffness levels for playing different beats. In this pilot study, 29 able-bodied subjects (20 drumming novices and 9 experts) wear a cuff on the forearm, to which a drumstick is connected using changeable adapters, consisting of several leaf springs with different stiffness and one maximally stiff connection element. The subjects are asked to play simple regular drum beats at different frequencies, one of which is the resonant frequency of the adapter-drumstick system. The subject's performance of each drumming task is rated in terms of accuracy and precision, and the effort is measured using questionnaires for the perceived stress as well as electromyography (EMG) for the muscular activity. The experiments show that using springs instead of the stiff connection leads to lower muscular activity, indicating that humans are able to use the energy-storing capabilities of the springs, or that muscular activity is reduced due to the lower mass of the springs. However, the perceived stress is increased and the novices' performance lowered, possibly due to a higher cerebral load for controlling the elastic system. The hypothesis that "matching the resonant frequency of the spring-drumstick system to the desired frequency leads to better performance and lower effort" is not confirmed. Possible explanations are discussed. In conclusion, a series-elastic element appears to lower the muscular effort of drumming, while a stiff connection appears to minimize the mental load and has a positive effect on the performance of drumming novices.

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