Robotic Parasite Helps Drummers Keep The Beat


When we last left Georgia Tech Professor Gil Weinberg he was building robotic friends who could bop and sing along to your favorite tunes. Now he has created a wearable robotic arm that adds a third hand to a drummer’s arsenal.

“It responds to human gestures and the music it hears. When the drummer moves to play the high hat cymbal, for example, the robotic arm maneuvers to play the ride cymbal. When the drummer switches to the snare, the mechanical arm shifts to the tom,” wrote Weinberg.

The wild robot listens to the current beat and watches the drummer’s other “real” arms. It then reacts accordingly, moving around the kit to maximize the groove potential. The arm speeds up when the user speeds up and slows down when the user slows down.

“If you augment humans with smart, wearable robotics, they could interact with their environment in a much more sophisticated manner,” said Weinberg. “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.”

While it probably won’t appease the teacher in Whiplash, the arm adds a unique twist to the drumming experience. The project came from an original replacement robot created for a drummer who lost an arm in an accident. By giving a drummer a third arm, however, Weinberg and his team have augmented and improved the drumming experience immensely. The best thing? Eventually the arm will connect to your brain. From the release:

The next step is linking the arm’s movements to brain activity. The team is already experimenting with an electroencephalogram (EEG) headband that detects a drummer’s brain patterns. They’re hoping to identify patterns that would allow the arm to react when the musician simply thinks about changing tempo or instruments.

Weinberg sees other 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 said. “Music is based on very timely, precise movements. It’s the perfect medium to try this concept of human augmentation and a third arm.”

I, for one, welcome our Neil Pert-mimicking robotic overlords.