Drum News
Drummer Cafe 20th Anniversary
  • Subscribe
Pin it
Georgia Tech - Robotic Armphoto credit: Georgia Tech

Two years ago, drummer Jason Barnes lost his lower right arm to electrocution while repairing a restaurant's vent hood. Thanks to new robotic arm invented by Professor Gil Weinberg, founding director of Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology, Jason has found hope in his future as a working professional musician.

Prior to meeting Professor Weinberg, whose previous work included, among other things, a drum playing robot and marimba playing robot, Barnes was using a spring-loaded brace that doubled as a drumming device on his arm. This new mechanical arm, however, gives Barnes the ability to use three different drumsticks on the drumkit. His left hand holds one drumstick naturally while the other two drumsticks are held by the robotic arm attached to Barnes' right bicep. One of the robotic arm drumsticks is controlled by the up-and-down motion of Barnes' arm, as well as electrical impulses from his body measured by electromyography muscle sensors. The other drumstick, however, is unique in that it analyzes the rhythm being played by Barnes and uses a built-in motor to improvise on its own. Wild.

"The second drumstick has a mind of its own," Weinberg said in a statement. "The drummer essentially becomes a cyborg. It's interesting to see him playing and improvising with part of his arm that he doesn't totally control."

Now the envy of drummers around the world? Jason Barnes thinks so. "I'll bet a lot of metal drummers might be jealous of what I can do now," he said. "Speed is good. Faster is always better," Barnes said, referring to the fact that the autonomous stick can move more quickly than humanly possible.

Weinberg's drumming robotic arm, more specifically the autonomous third stick, uses a technology that "listens" to what's being played and add its own appropriate track. If Barnes doesn't want to hear the extra stick, he simply rotates his arm so it doesn't strike the drum ... as seen in this video.