Need an Extra Arm?
Even if you’re a true music aficionado, have been to
hundreds of concerts, and maybe even played in a band or
two, you may never have stopped to wonder, “Gee, what if
drummers had three arms?” Fortunately for us
unimaginative nebbishes, the folks at Georgia Tech’s Center
for Music Technology ( www.gtcmt.gatech.edu) have
addressed that very question and, in fact, are conducting
research using a wearable robotic arm that in effect creates
Funded by the National Science Foundation to the tune
of $178,761, the project involves a “smart arm” that
responds both to human gestures and to the music it
hears. “When the drummer moves to play the high hat
cymbal, for example, the robotic arm maneuvers to play
the ride cymbal. When the drummer switches to the snare,
the mechanical arm shifts to the tom.”
Actually, the arm was developed earlier in a project
aimed at creating a prosthesis for a local drummer who
had lost an arm in an accident. This one year extension of
the project — officially entitled “Volition Based Anticipatory
Control for Time-Critical Brain-Prosthetic Interaction” —
ultimately seeks to link the arm to an EEG headband so it
can read the drummer’s brain waves and act accordingly.
Or, as elucidated in the abstract, “The goal is to enable
the enhanced prosthesis to detect volition, the cognitive
process by which an individual decides on and commits to
a particular course of action hundreds of milliseconds
before the action actually takes place, in order to foresee
the drummer's actions and achieve sub-second
synchronization between artificial and biological limbs,
thereby leading to improved performance in a time-sensitive domain where asynchronous operations of more
than a few milliseconds are noticeable by listeners.”
Robot arm attached to drummer’s right shoulder.
Like the Bot? Buy the Company!
The Atlas bipedal humanoid robot — originally
introduced in 2013 by Boston Dynamics
( www.bostondynamics.com) — was designed to perform
a range of search-and-rescue jobs under hazardous
conditions. Last February, a new model was unveiled with
a video showing it trudging deftly through uneven snow-covered terrain, as well as working in a warehouse. (The
video, in case you’re not one of the 15 million people who
have already viewed it, can be found via a You Tube search
using “atlas, next generation.”)
With 28 degrees of freedom and a range of sensors
(including LIDAR), Atlas has demonstrated its ability to
drive a utility vehicle, remove debris, open doors, climb
ladders, use tools, and perform other amazing tasks. It
therefore seems somewhat of a surprise that Google —
which acquired the company less than four years ago —
has decided to sell it off.
According to a Bloomberg report, the motivation is
that Google’s parent company, Alphabet, Inc., concluded
that Boston Dynamics is unlikely to come up with a
marketable product in the near future and wants to focus
on things that actually make money. (The US military has
already said “no thanks” to the idea of using Atlas for
combat purposes.) Rumors have it that both Toyota and
Amazon are interested, but no deals have been made, so
it’s not too late to whip out your checkbook and make
them an offer.
Google has not set an asking price, but it will probably
want to recover all or most of the half a billion dollars it
plunked down in 2013.
Atlas 1.1 robot, recovering from a fall.
8 SERVO 07.2016