Robotics engineers at Georgia Tech have developed a robotic limb that acts like a third arm to greatly increase the creative capability of drummers.
In this video, you can see the arm in action, keeping time and coordinating drum kit positions along with a two-armed, human drummer. “We believe that if you augment humans with technology, humans would be able to do much more,” says Center for Music Technology director Gil Weinberg. “We thought that music [would be] a great medium to try that.”
The robotic “smart arm” attaches to the drummer’s shoulder and is able to respond both to the drummer’s movements and to the music being played. A Georgia Tech news release explains that the robot has learned how the human body moves, and senses based on movement what the drummer plans to do next. If the robot senses the drummer moving towards the high-hat cymbal, it shifts to the ride cymbal. If the drummer moves toward the snare, the robot focuses on the tom.
The team is currently experimenting with electroencephalogram (EEG) technology, so future robots could potentially read a drummer’s brain waves to sense when they think about changing tempo or position.
The project, funded by the National Science Foundation, is an impressive demonstration of coordination. The robot has to interpret human action and translate it to a precise position on the drum kit, using accelerometers to gauge distance to objects. If the human drummer’s tempo slows or speeds up, so does the robot.
This research follows up on a Georgia Tech project from last year, where a robotic limb was created for a man who had lost an arm in an accident. That arm held two drumsticks, so it created a three-armed drummer of a different sort.
The robot’s not quite up to John Bonham’s skill level yet, but it’s so far it’s proved good enough to jam with in the lab.