Pianist of the new generation: robotic arm
Scientists and engineers have been building and programming robots playing the piano for decades. But there is a distinctive feature in this new robotic arm that presses keys the way people usually do.
Instead of having to rely on a complex scheme of motors, such as decades, pianists, arm presented in the article Science Robotics, works passively, that is, its fingers are not associated individually with any of the motors. Instead, a simple mechanical arm controls only the wrist, and the rest of the arm follows a design inspired by human anatomy.
Josie Hughes, a leading researcher of the Cambridge University project, commented that their goal was to move away from the traditional approach of robotics.
So far, the arm is far from mastering of Chopin or Debussy. But it is quite capable of playing “Jingle Bells”.
This study is another step in the development of robots that move with the nuances of human bodies, says Cecilia Lasky, Professor at the BioProcess Institute in Italy. Advances in this field may someday lead to the emergence of robots that will make it possible to study the natural environment or conduct medical diagnostics by touch.
Human palm – a prototype of robotic arm
Hughes and her team turned to the human hand for inspiration. According to the scientist, a person not only has intelligence in the brain – there is intelligence distributed throughout the body. She also added that much of “intelligence stems from physical structure and mechanics.” For this reason, its employees have developed a mechanical arm with bones and ligaments arranged as they are in nature.
They then studied how hard or soft the different components should be. In the absence of engines, these different levels create complexity. Hughes noted that they wanted to test how strong the human hand was, but was able to perform light movements.
The researchers manufactured the arm using a 3D printer that mixed hard plastic and soft rubber in ratios to create ligaments and joints with varying degrees of stiffness. They then attached the arm to the robot arm, which is commonly used on industrial assembly lines.
A team of scientists broke the piano into three types of movements: one-finger strokes, jumps, and thumb slides. They used three pieces of music to evaluate their robot’s abilities.
According to Hughes, in comparison with many previous pianists, this demonstrated the flexibility to adjust the volume, movements of the thumb and the playing both staccato and legato. She also plans to add sensors, motors, and components that act as tendons, which will help to create a wider range of behaviors.
Eventually, she hopes to create a robot that can play the piano expressively rather than just focus on strict precision. Hughes believes that playing the piano is, first of all, an art. And her team will try to bring this complexity, depth and skill to the behavior of their robot.