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A Glove that Teaches Muscle Memory?

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Thad Starner, a professor at Georgia Institute of Technology and the technical lead of Google Glass, has been developing a glove that may help in teaching muscle memory for complex tasks such as learning to play guitar chords or songs on the piano at much greater speed. Ever wanted to learn to play Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in just a few hours? Starner thinks this is how to do it. The glove even shows promise of helping to restore some sensation and dexterity in people with spinal cord injuries. Here’s an author’s account from IEEE Spectrum:

Caitlyn Seim, a Ph.D student, slips the glove onto my hand. Inside each of the five finger holes she has sewn a flat vibration motor. The five tiny vibrators, which perch atop my digits like gemstones on rings, are wired to a microcontroller on the back of my hand. Seim has programmed it to fire the motors in the same sequence that my fingers would strike keys on a piano.

But she doesn’t tell me which tune I’ll be learning. “You’ll just feel a little buzzing,” she says, flipping on the electronics. Then Starner whisks me away to show off his lab’s myriad other projects: a language-translation app for Google Glass, a magnetic tongue implant for voicing silent commands to a computer, a smart vest to help divers communicate with dolphins, smart chew toys to help police dogs communicate with handlers, and all manner of other wonderfully wacky wearables.

Once every minute for the next 2 hours, the motors in the glove vibrate across my fingers. I try to figure out the pattern: buzz…middle finger…buzz…ring fin…buzz…buzz…ger…buzz…uh…buzz…buzz…crap. “IMPOSSIBLE,” I write in my notebook.

At last, Starner escorts me to a keyboard. He plays the first passage of a song—15 notes that the glove has supposedly taught me. I recognize the tune. It’s Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” I take off the glove.

“Start here,” Starner says, hitting the first note. I lay my fingers on the keys. Middle finger…middle finger…ring finger… “I don’t know,” I say, embarrassed.

“Don’t think about it,” Starner says.

I start again. Middle…middle…ring…pinky…pinky…ring…middle…pointer…. “This is crazy!” I say, still playing. And I don’t stop. I finish the first passage, then play the second, and start into the third.

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