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Flutist and Saxophonist Robots Partner for a Classical Duet

These robots play Mendelssohn, and one has even learned to jam

1 min read

Since we last covered the Waseda Flutist Robot, which plays the flute with the skill of an intermediate-level human player, the bot has acquired some musical accompaniment.

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This video shows the robot playing a classical duet (“Trois Duos de Mendelssohn et Lachner”) with a robotic saxophonist partner, itself noticeably less humanoid than the flutist. Researchers Atsuo Takanishi, Jorge Solis, and colleagues, at Waseda University in Japan, are attempting to recreate the interaction of musical partners such that one can respond to the visual and aural cues of its companion.

Eventually, the researchers want to have a single robot that will be able to play multiple instruments. But for now, the different ways of producing sound in each instrument require different bot components.

They also want robots to be able to interact with humans, and to do so jazz-band style, with improvisation.

In this video, the flutist robot is actually responding to a human saxophonist, using both visual and audio cues from its partner to pick up information and play its part. The goal in this case is for the robot to copy the sax player’s rhythm and melody, in a “question and answer” format. Notice that in the second trial, the robot misses its cue. In the third, it’s back on track.

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Videos: Takanishi Laboratory at Waseda University

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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