A few years ago, we wrote about this cybernetic arm that Georgia Tech professor Gil Weinberg developed for a drummer who had his right arm amputated. This was cool enough by itself, but back in 2014, Weinberg was already thinking about the next step: “robotic synchronization technology could potentially be used in the future by fully abled humans to control an embedded, mechanical third arm.” THE FUTURE IS NOW, and so are drummers that are 30 percent louder. Hooray?
It even seems to keep the beat properly most of the time, which is much better than what you can expect from a human drummer. Not bad!
From the human’s perspective, the drumming arm is programmed to mostly just do its own thing, adapting to whatever you’re doing. It knows where your drums are, where your hands are, and what you’re playing, and if it behaves itself the way it’s supposed to, you really shouldn’t have to think about it. It can improvise all by itself based on the beat and rhythm of what it hears, and even do call and response with you.
Meanwhile, the drummer is wearing an EEG headband that isn’t being actively used at the moment, but eventually, Weinberg is “hoping to identify patterns that would allow the arm to react when the musician simply thinks about changing tempo or instruments.” Presumably, if you think about changing tempo the arm will adapt with you, and if you think about changing instruments to something besides drums, the arm will give you a high five.
Even farther down the line, here’s what Weinberg is thinking about:
“Imagine if doctors could use a third arm to bring them tools, supplies or even participate in surgeries. Technicians could use an extra hand to help with repairs and experiments,” he said. “Music is based on very timely, precise movements. It’s the perfect medium to try this concept of human augmentation and a third arm.”
This is a similar idea to those supernumerary robotic arms that we’ve seen from MIT, except with a little more agency on behalf of the arm, emphasizing autonomy over adaptive assistance.
And while I’m sure that drummers everywhere will be all kinds of excited about the ability to make even more noise, this isn’t something I’m personally looking forward to. At all. I have plenty of close-range experience with drummers doing their very best to be as loud as possible, and as far as I can tell, the only advantage of having drummers with a third arm is that you’d only need two thirds as many of them. So, probably worth it then, right?
[ Georgia Tech ]
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.