The intelligent robotic third arm that’ll make you a phenomenal drummer

When presented with a full-sized drum kit, the regulation human loadout of two arms can feel woefully inadequate. Sure, you could spend years and years practicing your art, or you could take a shortcut and get someone at Georgia Tech to kit you out with their latest invention: an intelligent robotic drumming arm that responds to your position and the music it hears.

The “smart-arm” is two-feet-long and attaches to the drummer’s shoulder, meaning it can respond to subtle body movements. If the drummer shifts to hit the high hat, the robot will move over to the ride cymbal. If it spots you heading for the snare, it’ll focus its attention on the tom.

In terms of pacing, it “listens” to the music in the room, slowing down and speeding up according to the beat and the rhythm.

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

As you might imagine, the “smart-arm” has a lot of clever technology in it to make it function as a usable drumming appendage. First of all, it moves (kind of) naturally, because it was programmed using human motion capture, but there’s more to it than that. A built-in accelerometer judges distance and proximity of the instrument, while onboard motors ensure the stick is always parallel to the surface – be it cymbal or tom. It can rise, lower or twist to give a good, clear sound.robotic_drumming_arm

The next step is to experiment with a little less automation, as the researchers explore the possibility of linking the arm’s movements to brain activity through an electroencephalogram headband to detect brain patterns. Just thinking about changing tempo could help the smart arm stay one step ahead of you.

Percussionists have gotten by with two arms since the dawn of time – why would three be a necessary improvement? Well, it wouldn’t necessarily, but the potential here for robotic prostheses in other industries is huge. As Weiberg says: “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. Music is based on very timely, precise movements. It’s the perfect medium to try this concept of human augmentation and a third arm.”

Still, no matter how proficient you get with an extra robotic arm though, there’s always someone better, isn’t there?

READ NEXT: Five ways to make yourself superhuman

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