Robotics

Wearable third arm gives drummers extra robotic rhythm

Wearable third arm gives drumm...
Tyler White (left) with the "third arm" robotic drumming arm accompanied by Professor Gil Weinberg (right)
Tyler White (left) with the "third arm" robotic drumming arm accompanied by Professor Gil Weinberg (right)
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Tyler White (left) with the "third arm" robotic drumming arm accompanied by Professor Gil Weinberg (right)
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Tyler White (left) with the "third arm" robotic drumming arm accompanied by Professor Gil Weinberg (right)
The "third arm" wearable is able to respond to both the music being played and the movements of the player
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The "third arm" wearable is able to respond to both the music being played and the movements of the player
The "third arm" project team at the Georgia Institute of Technology
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The "third arm" project team at the Georgia Institute of Technology

Thumping out as many drum beats in 60 seconds may get you a podium spot at the annual World's Fastest Drummer competition, but we'll take the full kit virtuoso playing of Cozy Powell, Philthy Animal Taylor or Mitch Mitchell any day of the week. When trying to emulate the fastest or the greatest on your bedroom bin-bashers, though, you'd be forgiven for wishing you had a third arm. Georgia Tech Professor Gil Weinberg and his research team may have the answer to your prayers. They've developed a drumstick-wielding wearable robotic limb that's able to respond to both the music being played and the movements of the player.

This latest project follows the creation in 2014 of a robotic prosthetic arm for drummer Jason Barnes. While cleaning out a restaurant exhaust duct in early 2012, Barnes got a nasty shock. More than 22,000 volts in fact. The accident eventually led to his right arm being amputated. Not wanting to give up on his percussive passion, he hacked a prosthetic arm. Though effective, it wasn't ideal. Professor Weinberg and team stepped in and created a double-stick robotic arm.

The "third arm" wearable is aimed at anyone who wants a helping hand while sat in the drum cage. The robotic device is attached to a musician's shoulder and is reported capable of determining the layout of kit components and the direction and proximity of the human arms, thanks to built-in accelerometers, and change playing location accordingly. If the human arm moves to play a hit-hat, for example, the robot arm adjusts to play the ride cymbal, when the player paradiddles on the snare, the attachment moves to the tom at the side.

The "third arm" wearable is able to respond to both the music being played and the movements of the player
The "third arm" wearable is able to respond to both the music being played and the movements of the player

The actual beats played are based on sounds detected in the room, with the drumstick pounding out improvisations built around the speed and rhythm of the player. Motors on the robot arm ensure that the stick is always positioned parallel to the playing surface and movements are said to be natural thanks to programming based on motion capture technology.

The team says that the next step is to bring the robot arm's percussion prowess under the control of the user's brain, and testing of an EEG headband is already underway in the hope of identifying patterns that will lead to the system reacting to player thoughts. But the development could move beyond cyborg music.

"Imagine if doctors could use a third arm to bring them tools, supplies or even participate in surgeries," said Weinberg. "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."

You can see and hear the "third arm" in the short video below.

Source: Georgia Institute of Technology

Robot allows musicians to become three-armed drummers

5 comments
Iman Azol
Neil Peart had a spare arm grafted on back around 1975 or so.
The Bishop of D
Why stop with three? Also, how about lefties?
Kristianna Thomas
They said that two heads are better than one, but a drummer with three arms are even better. If three arms are better than two, would four arms be even more awesome? I can't think of what a four armed drummer would sound like? What limits would there be in armaments; this could mark the start of a new arms race. Drummers with 4, 8, 12 or 16 arms; a virtual medusa of drumming. Would there be any limits to the number a arms, and no one is thinking about legs; either. A drummer with 4, 8 or six legs. The arrays that drumming could take is mind-blowing. Two, four, six or eight base drums, two, three or four snare drums. Twenty, forty or sixty cymbal's. Twenty tom toms. Kettle drums! All sorts of drums. Oh my god, I think I'm having an orgasm. Is that Kurt? Is that you Kurt; I'm coming to join ya. I think I see Nirvana.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
Finally! My Third Arm comes to market! Junior College speech class project, spring, '66.
oldguy
Excellent! How about a second mouth for politicians ? (both parties) It would save them from having to speak out of both side of their one mouth.