Cybernetic Arms That Play the Drums - Carlos GaminoBy Carlos Gamino, music-lover

From 70s synthesizers to electronic drum kits, technology has long-enabled musicians to dabble with new and strange sounds.

These musical devices have always been pre-programmed by humans, but what if there was a way for robots to interpret music and create their own percussion rhythms and patterns?

With a cybernetic arm that can follow drummers in real time and play along, Georgia Tech scientists have done just that.

The robotic arm attaches at the shoulder and pinches the drumstick between two fingerless panels. Experimental software allows the computer to observe the hand gestures and body movements of the drummer so that it can create a unique pattern that matches the volume and speed of what’s being played. In other words, the robot will play as fast—and as loud—as the drummer does.

At maximum speed, the machine can hit the drum 20 times in a single second, faster than any human can.

Gil Weinberg, lead director for the Center of Music Technology at Georgia Tech, has been working on musical artificial intelligence projects for the past 10 years. Eventually, he plans on having drummers wear a headband that scans their brainwaves, which will enable him to find out whether the robotic arm can literally be controlled by the user’s mind.

This technology will hopefully allow drummers with missing limbs to resume the hobby, but other researchers see this technology changing more than just the way people play music. In the future, a cybernetic arm could be helping doctors and other technicians perform delicate procedures.

What Do You Think?

Have you seen these cybernetic limbs, and if you have, what kind of potential do you see in them? I’d love to hear your take on what kind of possibilities this technology could open up in the future, so share your thoughts on my Facebook page or on Twitter!

Carlos Gamino