A two-foot long 'smart arm' programmed to work seamlessly with the beat, rhythm, and speed of a drummer's playing could allow more inventive three-armed musicianship, say its inventors. Jim Drury reports.
Designers of this robotic arm hope to persuade drummers to become 'cyborg musicians'. Georgia Institute of Technology researchers created the 'smart arm' to respond to human gestures, using motion capture technology. For instance, when the drummer moves to play the hi-hat cymbal the arm will places itself to play the ride cymbal. It's also programmed to respond to music being played, adapting to beat, rhythm, and speed. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR GIL WEINBERG, MUSICIAN AND INVENTOR, AND FOUNDER OF GEORGIA TECH CENTER FOR MUSIC, SAYING: "We let the arm move to different drums by following where the drummer is and where the arm is with sensors on the arm itself. Some of them are embedded to make it oriented correctly and some of them is from afar to know the whole environment in general, and that's where based on your gestures the arm can move to the different drums that you are interested in." The smart drum knows the direction and proximity of the drummer's real arms, via built-in accelerometers. On-board motors ensure its drumstick is always parallel to the playing surface. Researchers hope to link the arm's movements to a drummer's brain activity via an EEG headband. But will it catch on among professional drummers? Simon Hanson of Squeeze says three arms aren't necessarily better than two. SOUNDBITE (English) SQUEEZE DRUMMER SIMON HANSON SAYING: "It would for me be an add-on to a kit so I could trigger a sample or a different instrument. The basic drum kit is great. Two hands are okay and when I'm producing and there's other drummers playing I get them to play with one hand because I think drums with one hand sounds better in many ways....Unless it became socially acceptable it would be, I think it would be very amusing. I think the audience would be bemused. I think your mates in the band would be quite bemused." The technology could be adapted for surgeons or technicians.....so the Georgia Tech team will carry on beating the drum for its research.