On his way to creating a digital accordion, assistant music professor J. Tomás Henriques stumbled upon a device with unique therapeutic applications that he envisions using to treat speech and hearing disorders and memory loss, among other things.
Called Sonik Spring, Henriques's invention is a 15-inch metal spring resembling a Slinky toy that is outfitted with gyroscopes and accelerometers to capture three-dimensional motion and provide kinesthetic feedback. The Sonik Spring also transforms recorded sound as the user expands, compresses, twists, and bends it.
"It's like making a sculpture only the recorded song or words are your clay," said Henriques, who directs Buffalo State's Digital Music Ensemble and oversees the digital music minor. "I realized what I had in hand could provide auditory and visual feedback (for the user) and would also work in other areas such as cognitive and physical therapy."
The creation of the Sonik Spring secured Henriques a spot in the Pre-Seed Workshop hosted by the University at Buffalo's Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences on June 13 and 20. Henriques was invited to join nine other budding entrepreneurs in a workshop designed to help them gain access to funding. A panel of industry experts also vetted the inventions that mostly came from the high-tech and medical fields.
This is not Henriques's first invention. A few years ago, he created the Double Slide Controller, an electronic trombone-like instrument that won the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology's 2010 Guthman Musical Instruments Competition.
While the Sonik Spring can be used as a musical instrument, toy, and even a gaming device, Henriques views it as a therapeutic tool first. He imagines patients who have a suffered a stroke or who are in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease doing exercises with the Sonik Spring that are tied to cognitive functioning. For patients undergoing physical therapy, he sees them using it to rehabilitate upper-body muscle functioning.
"Now, they may do exercises that are difficult to measure and boring. This can make it easier to measure and more fun for the user," he said. "It can tell with precision if the patient is getting better. You can send the results directly to your physician through the computer."
Already, Henriques has developed a patent with the SUNY Research Foundation, and he has created a video presentation to send to angel investors. With proper funding, he hopes to bring his invention to the market by 2015. To see a demonstration of the Sonik Spring, visit http://cec.sonus.ca/econtact/14_4/henriques_sonikspring.html
One of the world's foremost experts in electric and digital music, Henriques joined the Music Department faculty in spring 2009. Previously, Henriques taught for 13 years at the University of Lisbon in Portugal, his native country.
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