This Drummer Really Does Have Three Arms [Video]

When you hear some drummers play, you may wonder “does that guy have three arms?” In this case, which involves a robotic arm programmed for drumming, indeed he does.

Scientists have created a new “smart arm”—a robotic wearable limb that can be attached to the shoulder to let drummers play with three arms.

The two-foot long “smart arm,” that can be attached to a musician’s shoulder, 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.

Georgia Tech Professor Gil Weinberg oversees the project, which is funded by the National Science Foundation. He says 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,” says Gil Weinberg, director of the Center for Music Technology at Georgia Tech. “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.

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.

On the next page, learn what inspired these scientists to build this new robo-arm, and
watch a video of the smart arm in action…