Of all the robots spotted at last month's Bay Area Maker Faire, the non-descript RoboTar definitely had the most distinctive groove. RoboTar is a robotic guitar hand that attaches to the neck of your instrument and takes care of that tricky fret work allowing for a new way to learn, play one-handed or even encourage experimentation for more experienced players.
At the RoboTar booth, I watched one newbie youngster pick up a guitar for the first time with the device in place and strum out some Led Zeppelin chords with seeming ease.
The unit itself is contained within what's essentially a plastic box fastened on the guitar neck. The system connects to software running as an app on an Android device or on a PC via Bluetooth. It can be programmed to play standard chords or any other chord you could dream up, including those that would be physically impossible for a human to play.
The device can be controlled while playing by pressing a pedal with your foot, which will trigger RoboTar to move to the next chord shape in a pre-programmed sequence.
This little musical hack is the creation of Kevin Krumwiede, who told me it was inspired by a lifetime guitarist who lost the use of his left hand after a debilitating stroke. Krumwiede is currently in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to move his technology from prototype to production. He pitches it as a worthy teaching tool, a means of one-handed play for those with disabilities, and a way for seasoned guitarists and composers to accompany themselves.
RoboTar does have its limitations, as it only works on the first four frets of a standard guitar. The crowdfunding campaign still has a few weeks to go, but to get an assembled prototype you'll have to pledge at least US$319 and hope the project meets its rather ambitious $230,000 goal.
This might not be the device that introduces robot rock stars to the culture, but it could one day be seen as the godfather of robotic rock that was just a little ahead of its time.
Check out some robot tunes in the video below.