While the best drummers out there do just fine with two arms, researchers at Georgia Tech have nevertheless taken it upon themselves to build a robotic third arm that can keep the beat with the other two. And then some.
The remarkable appendage attaches to the drummer’s shoulder and skillfully plays along by analyzing the musician’s body movements as well as the surrounding audio.
The team behind it says it designed the arm to explore the limits of what humans can achieve with robotic technology, and its creation is clearly no gimmick. The high-tech wizardry driving the arm is astonishingly powerful, enabling it to not only respond with great accuracy to the drummer’s actions and the band’s music, but also to move between the kit’s components with precision and ease, altering the speed and pressure of its percussions strikes as it goes.
An array of built-in motors and accelerometers – as well as a trusty drumstick – make up the design, with motion capture technology also incorporated to help the robotic arm move naturally around the kit.
Georgia Tech professor Gil Weinberg, who’s overseeing the project, says, “If you augment humans with smart, wearable robotics, they could interact with their environment in a much more sophisticated manner….The machine learns how your body moves and can augment and complement your activity. It becomes a part of you.”
Looking at the bigger picture, the professor, who also helped to create a bionic arm for this one-handed drummer, believes there are plenty of potential applications for the technology. “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,” he says, adding, “Music is based on very timely, precise movements. It’s the perfect medium to try this concept of human augmentation and a third arm.”
In the meantime, the researchers are working on linking the arm’s movements to brain activity so it can react when the musician simply thinks about changing tempo or instruments. If they can get to that stage, we’d love nothing more than to see a 10-armed (and possibly six-legged?) drummer locked inside a 360-degree kit performing the kind of explosive drum solo we thought only a highly-trained octopus would be able to master. Bring it on.