Not long ago, Buffalo State University music professor Tomás Henriques set out to develop a digital accordion. While that in itself would have been newsworthy, what he ended up creating could ultimately have a lot more significance. Known as the Sonik Spring, Henriques’ device may find use not only in the field of music, but also as a means of physical rehabilitation.

At the heart of the instrument is a steel spring, that can be compressed to 7 inches (17.8 cm) or stretched to 30 (76 cm). It's equipped with three gyroscopes and three accelerometers, one of each located in its two hand controllers and a single mid-spring-located module. Additionally, it can generate audio tones of its own, or play back audio samples.

The gyroscopes and accelerometers detect any changes of the pitch, yaw or roll of the spring. When any such spatial movements do occur (as initiated by the user), the audio playback is affected accordingly.

The Sonik Spring can be used in any of three modes.

In Instrument Mode, it can be played like a concertina (also known as a squeeze box). Pulling and compressing the spring emulates the presses and draws of the concertina’s bellows, with the left-hand sensors generating chords while the right-hand sensors generate melody – buttons located on each of the hand controllers assist in these tasks. Volume is determined both by the absolute length of the spring, and the speed at which it changes length.

In Sound Processing Mode, recorded audio can be manipulated. Depending on the way in which the spring is moved and the 10 control buttons are pressed, users can alter playback parameters including pitch, tempo, speed, and direction. This functionality allows them to do things like creating loops, filtering out certain frequencies, and isolating sections of audio.

Finally, in Cognitive Mode, sounds produced by the device reflect the extent to which users are able to stretch, compress, bend or twist its spring. Henriques believes that this type of feedback could be very motivational to patients undergoing upper-body physical therapy. It could also provide therapists with a straightforward way of tracking their patients’ progress.

Tomás is hoping that the Sonik Spring could be commercially available by 2015. He can be seen (and heard) playing it in Sound Processing Mode in a video on the project webpage.

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