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Smart wearable robot makes three-armed drummers

19 Feb 2016

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A team of researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology has developed a wearable robotic limb that enables drummers to play with three arms. The two-foot long "smart arm" can be attached to a musician's shoulder and responds to human gestures and the music it hears. When the drummer moves to play the high hat cymbal, for example, the robotic arm manoeuvres to play the ride cymbal. When the drummer switches to the snare, the mechanical arm shifts to the tom.

The wearable smart arm moves from drum to cymbal based on the drummer's movements. It also automatically adjusts to varying heights and the angle of playing surfaces. Then it plays based on what it "hears" in the room.

Georgia Tech Professor Gil Weinberg oversees the project, which is funded by the National Science Foundation. He said the goal is to push the limits of what humans can do.

"If you augment humans with smart, wearable robotics, they could interact with their environment in a much more sophisticated manner," said Weinberg, director of the Centre for Music Technology. "The third arm provides a much richer and more creative experience, allowing the human to play many drums simultaneously with virtuosity and sophistication that are not otherwise possible."

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.

Wearable robot

Figure 1: The wearable robot allows humans to play with three arms.

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.

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