CSIRO air guitar ready to rock

A team of CSIRO scientists have answered the prayers of air guitar aficionados everywhere; they've created a T-shirt that actually plays face-melting guitar solos with the simple strum of your arm.

What started as a backburner project for Dr Richard Helmer and his team of scientists from the CSIRO's textile and fibre technology division in Geelong, turned into a full time project early this year when the collaborative efforts of computing, chemistry, electronics, music composition and textile manufacture experts helped create the Wearable Instrument Shirt (WIS).

The WIS, which was created by weaving about five metres of electrically conductive threads into a simple K-Mart T-shirt, contains elbow sensors that are connected to a wireless communications device. When the sensors detect movement, a signal is sent to a wireless port in the shirt's side and then radioed to a computer that deciphers the motions into music from pre-mapped audio samples. So, for example, a 45-degree bend could denote the chorus while a 90-degree bend could translate to a verse.

"Freedom of movement is a great feature of these textile-based interfaces," said Dr Helmer. "The software takes the wearer's concept of an instrument and lays down music on top of it. So you can choose certain sections of a song like the rhythm guitar and rock out."

The WIS can simulate any instrument, from the guitar to the tambourine or even original user-created sounds, he said.

The design originally included the use of fingers, so users could play specific notes on an imaginary fret board, but Helmer scrapped it when the process became too complicated to execute.

"Although the technology, which is adaptable to almost any kind of apparel, takes clothing into the realms of entertainment, it's always important to keep it simple for the intended user," said Helmer.

Next on the agenda for Helmer and his team is to develop a 3D suit with the addition of extra sensors on shoulders, chest and back. He said this could be used in a variety of applications from physiotherapy to playing video games.

"This has great potential for video games," said Helmer. "We're already in the early stages of developing a shirt that will allow us to play Tetris."

A video of Helmer demonstrating the air-guitar T-shirt is available on the CSIRO's Web site, www.scienceimage.csiro.au/mediarelease/air-guitar.html

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