Creepy Christmas carol: 3D-printed robotic hand plays ‘Jingle Bells’ on a piano

Nothing says it’s nearly Christmas quite like a 3D-printed robot hand busting out a festive classic on the piano. Fortunately, this year the tradition continues (or, let’s be honest, starts) courtesy of researchers from the U.K.’s University of Cambridge. Using a 3D printer, they have created a soft robot hand — attached to a robot arm — that’s able to play the piano in a variety of styles, including clipped “staccato” and smooth “legato” notes. And what better way to showcase it than with a rendition of Jingle Bells?

While this isn’t the first piano-playing robot we’ve covered, what makes this robot neat is that it can achieve this fairly complex action despite being pretty limited in its movement. For instance, the hand is unable to move its fingers independently. That’s in stark contrast to the real human hand, which is capable of incredibly fine-grained motions thanks to its various points of articulation. The fact that it is therefore able to carry out actions as complicated as playing musical phrases on the piano is a testament to what can be achieved through some enterprising design. When it comes to this robot hand and its attached robot arm, the movement really is all in the wrist.

“Creating robots which can manipulate objects as well as humans can is really challenging,” Josie Hughes, a researcher in Cambridge’s department of engineering, told Digital Trends. “We have explored how the physical structure of the hands — the bones and soft ligaments — provides some intelligence which enables this. By developing methods of 3D-printing a hand structure with soft and rigid components, we can then just actuate the robot hand, such that we can explore the passive behaviors of the hand as it interacts with the environment. This is a far more scalable approach than other approaches to developing complex robot hands, where many motors and really complex control is needed.”

The 3D-printed hand is just the latest in a growing number of “soft robotics,” which differ in material from the more rigid robots we might more typically associate with the word.

“We now want to take this work further to investigate how we can exploit this mechanical complexity of the hand, and how we can use this to enable robots to perform highly complex tasks which robots currently can’t perform,” Hughes said “To advance the technology further we also want to include tactile sensing into the hand — the human hand has an incredible sense of touch — and we want to include this in a robot hand.”

A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Science Robotics.

Emerging Tech

Google plots radar-sensing tech that could make any object smart

Computer scientists have shown how Google’s Soli sensor can be used to make dumb objects smart. Here's why radar-powered computing could finally make the dream of smart homes a reality.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: camera with A.I. director, robot arm assistant

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Hexbot is a modular robot arm that does everything from drawing to playing chess

Who wouldn’t want their own personal robot arm to do everything from laser engraving to competing against you in a game of chess? That's what Hexbot, a new modular robot, promises to deliver.
Emerging Tech

The best 3D printers for 2019

On the hunt for a new 3D printer? We've got your back. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned veteran, this list of the best 3D printers has what you're looking for.
Emerging Tech

Forget fireworks. Japan will soon have artificial meteor showers on tap

Tokyo-based startup Astro Live Experiences is preparing to launch its first artificial meteor shower over Japan, serving as a showcase of its prowess in the space entertainment sector.
Cars

Robomart’s self-driving grocery store is like Amazon Go on wheels

Robomart's driverless vehicle is like an Amazon Go store on wheels, with sensors tracking what you grab from the shelves. If you don't want to shop online or visit the grocery store yourself, Robomart will bring the store to you.
Emerging Tech

Glowing space billboards could show ads in the night sky

Look up at the night sky in 2020 and you might see an ad for McDonald's floating among the stars. A Russian startup is working on a project that uses a constellation of small satellites in low-Earth orbit to create glowing ads.
Emerging Tech

New brainwave reader tells teachers if students are concentrating

Massachusetts-based startup BrainCo has developed brainwave-reading headbands which can reportedly help reveal if students are concentrating in class. Here's how they're being used.
Emerging Tech

Fears about kids’ screen use may have been overblown, Oxford researchers find

Many people take it as gospel that digital technologies are harmful to young people’s mental health. But is this true? A recent study from the University of Oxford takes a closer look.
Emerging Tech

Meet Wiliot, a battery-less Bluetooth chip that pulls power from thin air

A tiny chip from a semiconductor company called Wiliot could harvest energy out of thin air, the company claims. No battery needed. The paper-thin device pulls power from ambient radio frequencies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cell signals.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world will take your breath away

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Too buzzed to drive? Don’t worry — this autonomous car-bar will drive to you

It might just be the best or worst idea that we've ever heard: A self-driving robot bartender you can summon with an app, which promises to mix you the perfect drink wherever you happen to be.
Emerging Tech

Scientists successfully grow human blood vessels in a Petri dish

Researchers have managed to grow human blood vessels in a Petri dish for the first time, and even to successfully implant them into live mice. The results could be a game-changer for diabetes.
Emerging Tech

Tiny animals discovered in Antarctic lake deep beneath the ice

Scientists have made a surprising discovery in Antarctica: the carcasses of tiny animals including crustaceans and a tardigrade were found in a lake that sits deep beneath over half a mile of Antarctic ice.