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Bionic gloves allow injured concert pianist Joo Carlos Martins to play again

An internationally acclaimed conductor and pianist, who through injury and disease had been reduced to using just his thumbs, can play again thanks to a pair of bionic gloves.

Brazilian Joo Carlos Martins is regarded as one of the world’s great interpreters of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music.

However his hands had not functioned properly for 21 years, through a combination of a degenerative brain disease that affected his peripheral movement, an arm injury sustained in a football match and being hit on the head during a mugging in Bulgaria while on tour.

Image: The gloves are covered in neoprene and held together by a carbon fibre board

Only able to control the movement in his thumbs, the 79-year-old, had worked mostly as a conductor since the early 2000s.

In March last year he announced his retirement and that he was having his 24th surgery in order to stop the pain in his left hand.


“My struggle with the degenerative disease of my brain, with the peripheral problems, they finally cut the last nerve and I could only play with my thumbs,” he said.

“Not playing the piano, it was if there was a corpse inside my chest.”

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Fortunately for the Sao Paulo-based musician, a local designer heard about his fate and decided to try to help.

Ubirat Bizarro Costa created neoprene-covered bionic gloves that bump Martins’ fingers upward after they depress the keys, and which are held together by a carbon fibre board.

The pair spent the subsequent months testing several prototypes to perfect the design.

Martins says the gloves have allowed him to play again.

“He made these gloves that make the fingers come back (move again), so with that, I can play the piano, I can play fast but I still don’t so I don’t get injured. And already I can play the piano (again). I can put all the fingers on the keyboards.”

The “extender gloves,” as their inventor calls them, mean Martins is now planning his comeback.

He intends to play in public again for the first time in years at New York’s Carnegie Hall in October, when he is scheduled to conduct a concert celebrating the 60th anniversary of his first appearance there.


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