This brain hat helps the paralyzed make music

Editor’s Note: The Art of Movement is a monthly show that highlights the most significant innovations in science and technology that are helping shape our modern world.

Story highlights

Eduardo Miranda has created a system which allows people to make music using their eyes

The system uses electrodes and was inspired by people suffering from paralysis

The musician and professor has a research lab at the University of Plymouth

CNN  — 

Ever since musician Eduardo Miranda met a patient with locked in syndrome 11 years ago, he has been on a mission to create a way for the paralyzed to make music.

His latest invention is the brain computer music interface (BCMI) which allows people to create music using just their eyes.

How it works

By connecting electrodes to the back of the head, the system can tell where you’re looking by monitoring brain activity. Flashing icons representing different snippets of music appear on screen and you can make a selection, just by staring at one.

In real time, a musician plays a score generated from the user’s selections.

“Our brain is producing electricity all the time,” says Miranda, head of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research at Plymouth University.

“These are very faint electrical signals but we can amplify and analyze them. Let’s say you have two icons on the computer screen: one flashing at 10 hertz and the other flashing at 15 hertz. If you look at the one flashing at 15 hertz, we can detect it.”

“We can detect up to eight different frequencies at the moment,” explains Eduardo Miranda who is helped by a team of doctoral students and research assistants at his lab.

“My latest composition is for a string quartet. It’s an interaction between eight people, four of them generating music and the others playing the music as its being generated.

“The score for the quartet is a computer monitor rather than sheet music so the musicians have to be quite skilled and perform the piece as it’s generated.”

Listen to Miranda’s string quartet playing using the BCMI.


Speaking of his inspiration for the project, Miranda says: “I wanted to create something to enable people with severe disabilities to make music. I was struck by an encounter I had once with a man who had had a stroke and was paralyzed completely from the neck down.

“That had a profound impact on me and I thought, as a musician, how I could provide a voice for him – that’s where this research began.”

He adds: “A few years ago I tested a prototype with a paralyzed patient in a hospital in London he was able to play music by looking as these icons. The nurses and carers there told me that one of the things that these patients really miss is interaction with other people, not with machines. That’s how this system was created.”


It has been 11 years since Miranda started his lab, with financial support from Plymouth University as well as securing funding throughout the years. He has also been successful in securing funding from engineering organizations such as the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

“It was very difficult at the beginning to convince people that this research could work and produce something useful. It sounded like science fiction to begin with, people didn’t believe it. But as I began to produce results, papers and scientific journals, it became easier to put the arguments on paper.”