Drummers rejoice: There’s now a robot arm for three-handed drumming

Three’s company.
Three’s company.
Image: YouTube/Georgia Tech
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Neil Peart might soon be out of a job.

Researchers at Georgia Tech’s Center for Music Technology are looking into the potential of robotic arms to augment the abilities of human drummers. Gil Weinberg (unclear whether he’s related to any famous drummers with the same name) has been researching robotic prosthetics for drummers missing arms for the last few years, but IEEE Spectrum reported that he’s now looking into how two-armed drummers can become three-armed cyborg drummers.

The arm, which is strapped onto a drummer’s shoulder, can keep time with what he’s playing and add a beat to the song. So if the drummer is hitting the high-hat cymbal, the arm will know to move to keep time on the ride cymbal, and when the human moves to the snare drum, the arm moves to the tom drum.

“We believe that if you have something that is part of your body, it’s a completely different feeling, because it learns how your body moves and it can augment it,” Weinberg said in a video released by the university. “So if you want to move toward a particular drum, the arm knows that because it recognizes your gestures and you feel that your own body is responding to you in a way.”

The two-foot arm uses onboard accelerometers to measure distance and proximity to the drum kit, and according to a release from the university, was programmed using motion-capture images of a human drumming, helping it to imitate the natural movements of a human arm. The university said in a blog post that the next step is to connect the arm to a human’s brain activity, so instead of inferring what the human is playing, the drummer would actually be able to control it as they would their own arm.

The Pentagon has also been interested in the application of this type of research in the rehabilitation of wounded soldiers: DARPA wants to create cyborg arms that are as lifelike and useful as Luke Skywalker’s from the Star Wars films, and it’s already succeeded in building robot arms that can be wirelessly controlled through implants in humans’ brains.  

Imagine if, in the future, you could strap three or four more of these robot arms to one drummer: You’d have a superhuman beat machine that looks like Doctor Octopus and could be his own Rush cover band. It’s a brave new world out there.