Robot turns musicians into three-armed drummers


Georgia Tech researchers have created a wearable robotic limb that allows drummers to play with three arms.


Georgia Tech researchers have created a wearable robotic limb that allows drummers to play with three arms. The two-foot long smart arm attaches to a musician’s shoulder, and responds to human gestures and the music it hears.

The robotic arm is ’smart’ for a few reasons. First, it knows what to play by listening to the music in the room. It improvises based on the beat and rhythm. For example, if the musician plays slowly, the arm slows the tempo. If the drummer speeds up, it plays faster.

robotic_arm_4_1

Beyond that, the extra limb knows where it’s located at all times, where the drums are, as well as the direction and proximity of the human arms. When the robot approaches an instrument, it employs its built-in accelerometers to sense the distance and proximity. On-board motors ensure the stick is always parallel to the playing surface, enabling it to rise, lower or twist to ensure solid contact with the drum or cymbal. The arm moves naturally with intuitive gestures because it was programmed using human motion capture technology.

“If you have a robotic device that is part of your body, it’s a completely different feeling from working alongside a regular robot,” explains Georgia Tech professor and project supervisor Gil Weinberg. “The machine learns how your body moves and can augment and complement your activity. It becomes a part of you.”

Gil Weinberg with Tyler White playing drums with a robotic arm

The team is currently exploring the use of an EEG headband, so future robotic arms could read a drummer’s brain waves to detect when they think about changing tempo or position. But why stop at music? Looking ahead, the researchers also hope to expand their efforts into the healthcare and industrial fields.

“Imagine if doctors could use a third arm to bring them tools, supplies or even participate in surgeries. Technicians could use an extra hand to help with repairs and experiments,” Weinberg adds.

You can see their prototype in action below, and read all about it here. Rock on!

[Images: Georgia Tech]

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