Researchers at Georgia Tech’s Center for Music Technology have just pushed the art of drumming, and eventually the world, into the future. Developing a robotic limb that attaches to the shoulder, they’ve effectively given drummers the ability to have three arms.
The arm is what Georgia Tech developers call a “smart arm”. This means that it not only can mimic the movements of the drummer, but it also responds to what is being played. This allows the arm to compliment the human player a as well as the music, rather than just copying movements. At two-feet long, the arm has the ability to reach a variety of different toms and percussive elements.
By listening to the music being played in a room, it is able to improvise based on tempo and rhythm. This allows for a much more organic musical feel, rather than just a robotic arm slamming a drum. With built in accelerometers, the arm is smart and aware of it/the drummers location relative to the kit. This means that it can actually change which percussive element is being played based on what the drummer is doing.
For example, when the drummer shifts position and plays the high hat cymbal, the arm will recognize the movement and adjust to play whichever element it has been programmed to play. Let’s say the ride cymbal. Then when the drummer switches to the snare drum, it can switch and potentially play the medium or low tom. Able to keep itself parallel to the playing surface, it always has solid contact with the drum/cymbal it’s hitting.
We believe that if you augment humans with technology, humans would be able to do much more. We though that music is a great medium to try that. Music is something that is very timely. You really need to do things on the right millisecond. It’s also very spacial. You need to go to the right places. So what better medium than to try the concept of a third arm that would augment you and allow you to do a thing that you couldn’t before, with music. And that’s where the shared control comes into play. We believe that if you have something that is part of your body, it’s a completely different feeling because it learns how your body moves, and it can augment it. So if you want move like you saw, toward a particular drum, the arm knows that. This is because it recognizes the gestures. You feel that your own body is responding to you in a way. The idea that machines are not separated from humans but becoming a part of humans. – Gil Weinberg, Director of the Center for Music Technology
While this is all very impressive, based on the video you can tell it’s still in very early development. While the arms ability to recognize movements and change the drum it’s playing is amazing, the actual playing of the drums isn’t quite perfect and movement between elements can be slow. It’s not quite what you’d imagine in some future based movie where drummers have robotic arms that shred solos with them, but it is definitely on it’s way.
It’s also important to recognize that this goes beyond music. As Weinberg said, his goal is to augment humans with technology, not just musicians. Music just so happens to be a great medium to develop this technology on. Further implications could be even more incredible. He uses the example of bringing third arms to doctors, allowing aid in surgery and more.
“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. Music is based on very timely, precise movements. It’s the perfect medium to try this concept of human augmentation and a third arm.”
With the idea of robotic third arms throughout science fiction and having been tried before in the past, this is definitely one of the most impressive and ground breaking inventions in the field to date. If they continue to develop and improve upon this already amazing arm, highly functional robotic third arms will be changing the world sooner than you think.