The Virtual Music Instrument: Music for People of All Abilities

Chau, Tom

Tom Chau, IBBME Professor, Vice President & Director of Research, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital

Professor Tom Chau is bringing the joy of making music to individuals with severe disabilities.

Invented in Professor Chau’s Paediatric Rehabilitation Intelligent Systems Multidisciplinary (PRISM) lab, the Virtual Music Instrument (VMI) allows the slightest of movements to produce music on a computer—bringing the empowerment of making music to those for whom picking up a guitar or sitting at a piano are activities inaccessible due to disability.

The VMI uses a web camera to detects motion, while also reflecting the user’s image on a screen. As a child moves to virtually “touch” shapes on the screen, sounds are emitted. VMI requires no special equipment; it can be installed on any Windows-based computer, using any web camera device. Designed for use by therapists and educators, it is customizable according to the preferences and needs of the child, and can be used for specific therapy or educational goals.

The VMI won a 2010 da Vinici award, which recognizes innovative developments in assistive and adaptive technologies, awarded by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Michigan chapter.

The VMI is now in use in rehab centres around the world. Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, where Chau is the director of research and home base for his PRISM lab, has inpatient and outpatient therapy programs built around the VMI. The VMI was licensed by MusIQKids in 2009. Since then, it has been sold to rehab centres in Hotel Dieu Hospital in Kingston, and Zareinu Educational Centre in Thornhill. Internationally, the VMI is in use in the Netherlands (Rijndam Revalidatiecentrum (Children’s Rehab Rotterdam), the UK (Zion Arts Centre, Hulme). Novita Tech distributed the VMI widely in Australia, to a wide variety of users, including Cerebral Palsy Tasmania, aged care facilities, community respite homes, community dementia programs, and for individual therapeutic use.

The VMI’s distribution will be taken over by Chau’s spin-off company, Ojiton Inc., in 2012.

Eric Wan, who helped develop VMI, plays the violin: