Robotic Third Arm Turns Drummers Into Beat Machines

This ain’t a scene, it’s an arms race

Robot Arm On Drummer

Robot Arm On Drummer

Screenshot by author, from YouTube

The cymbalism of a three-armed drummer is obvious. Much of the focus on prosthetic limbs is about restoring ability, healing that which is broken or at least returning an injured limb to a semi-functional state. But the same technology that replaces a broken arm could also give a person with two arms a brand-new third limb, in a way transcending the simple limitations of the organic body. Like this:

This robot drum arm comes from Georgia Tech, and was originally designed as a way to help a drummer who had lost an arm. (No, not the one from Def Leppard.) Here, the drum arm augments an existing drummer. While the user in question is wearing a headband with sensors, that part of the project isn't ready yet. Instead, the robot arm is drumming of its own accord, with some awareness of what the human is doing. It listens, and it plays along.

Here's how it works, according to Georgia Tech:

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 instance, if the musician plays slowly, the arm slows the tempo. If the drummer speeds up, it plays faster.

Another aspect of its intelligence is knowing where it’s located at all times, where the drums are, and the direction and proximity of the human arms. When the robot approaches an instrument, it uses built-in accelerometers to sense the distance and proximity. On-board motors make sure the stick is always parallel to the playing surface, allowing 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.

Think of it less like a third human arm, and more like a friendly robotic symbiant that only wants to rock. Watch it in action below: