High-Tech Shirt Makes Air Guitar Audible

You don't have to know how to play the guitar to rock out. Richard Helmer and a team of engineers at the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization have created an air-guitar that actually produces music.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

You know, you don't always have to know how to play the guitar to be able to rock out. Richard Helmer and a team of engineers at the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization have created an air guitar that actually produces music. Dr. Helmer joins us now from Geelong, Australia. Thanks very much for being with us.

Dr. RICHARD HELMER (Air Guitar Shirt Creator): Thanks, Scott. It's a pleasure to be with you.

SIMON: So I mean I've seen the pictures. It's a shirt you put on while you play air guitar, right?

Dr. HELMER: Yep.

SIMON: I mean how does it work? It senses your movements? What happens?

Dr. HELMER: What you have is you have a couple of sleeves that you put over your elbow. They're a little bit like a sock. And they have a sensor in it, which can see that your elbow is bending. And the shirt connects to the sensors on the elbow. And it has some highly conductive filaments, which run it back to a little radio unit somewhere near your waist, which then talks to a computer with some software in it that generates the sounds.

You have different arm bends, say, with your left arm and you can assign different chords or different parts of the song to that. And then with your right arm you can do some strumming motion, and somewhere in that strumming motion it'll trigger a sound.

SIMON: You know, as a matter of fact, we have a recording playing of you playing your air guitar shirt.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: Is that your own composition, Dr. Helmer?

Dr. HELMER: Yeah. That actual piece can be played at two different skill levels. It can be played at choosing individual chords and it also can be played at just having - playing the verse or chorus part of that song. So you can actually learn about music as you play this instrument.

SIMON: I probably don't need to tell you this, but I've heard that there are, you know, like the United States and Soviet Union compete in space. I've heard that there's something called, is it the Helsinki Project, where they have an air guitar that they've made it out of gloves?

Dr. HELMER: Yeah. They're a pair of orange gloves and a camera. It's a little bit different to what we do, but I have been following them for a couple of years. I think the real key element of what I think we have done is that you have a shirt that's fashionable, so - we've also have done it in a long-sleeved t-shirt at the moment, which is a fairly low benchmark. We can, you know, you can color it, sequin it, turn it into a business shirt, you know, put a brand on it. Whatever you like. So it is an actual instrument.

So I think we have quite a strong point of differentiation.

SIMON: Yeah, but as I understand it, nobody can actually buy your air guitar shirt yet, right?

Dr. HELMER: Not yet, but there's been a fair bit of interest. It creates a pretty strong case for us to put it out there. The device is kind of generic and can be used for sporting and rehabilitation.

SIMON: Well, tell me a little bit about some of the non-musical, non-gaming uses that this technology can be used for?

Dr. HELMER: Well, we're looking at, say, sports performance monitoring and also training. So if you're trying to learn certain aspects of a sport - so you can imagine having a 3D representation of yourself on the computer and having, you know, and ideal 3D representation next to you, so you can get multi-angle feedback on what you're doing and be coached to do your exercises correctly.

I mean we haven't done that yet but that's pretty much where we're headed.

SIMON: I've been told that you play in rock bands.

Dr. HELMER: Yes. Actually play in about half a dozen bands. So I've been playing guitar now for quick a while. So you need to know how to play instruments to do the dissection of music I've done.

SIMON: Dr. Helmer, rock out.

Dr. HELMER: Yeah. Oh, rock on. You know, hello Cleveland.

SIMON: Or as they say in Cleveland, hello Geelong. Richard Helmer, research team leader of the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.

(Soundbite of music)

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