New piano pedal developed for paraplegics


Washington : Paraplegics immobilised from the hips down can now play the piano by operating the right pedal wirelessly, thanks to a method developed by Heidelberg Univeristy researcher Ing Rüdiger Rupp.

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For more than 20 years, there have been electromagnetic pedal controls for paraplegic pianists – mostly accident victims – that were invented by Bayreuth piano manufacturer Steingraeber & Söhne and are custom made.

Pulse generators such as light sensors, headrests, back cushions, neck braces, and mouth tubes make it possible for disabled pianists to play pieces that include pedal work – the complete works from Beethoven to the contemporary period.

However, the disadvantage of these technical solutions is that magnets are too undifferentiated for use with pianos because they can only switch the pedal on and off.

Rupp’s ingenious invention allows Heidelberg researchers to compensate for this decisive failing. Together with his team, he developed a bite splint over two years with a pressure-sensitive sensor that the pianist can hold in his mouth to control the pedal according to the markings on the music.

This bite splint solved the problem faced by a paraplegic professional pianist from Norway with which the piano maker from Bayreuth approached Rupp, said a release of Heidelberg University.

The concert can be held without any visible cables or devices, thus approaching normality. “We assess the strength with which a paraplegic clenches his teeth. Depending on how strongly he does this, he can control the pedal position,” Rupp said.

This uses a highly sensitive strength or pressure sensor, which is embedded in the chewing surface of a bite splint attached to the upper jaw. “The disabled patient can thus control the entire range of pedal action – including intermediate positions and the speed with which the pedal is depressed,” explained Rupp.