Jason Barnes is a drummer. Three years ago, he was electrocuted by a 22,000-volt bolt of electricity, and he lost his right hand. After seeing the work of Gil Weinberg, director of music tech at Georgia University and builder of musical robots, Barnes got in touch and asked him to build a robot arm.
You could just tie a stick to the stump and whack away at the drums, but what Barnes missed above all was the ability to change his grip, to let the stick sit loose in his hand, or grab it tight to do some thumping. Weinberg’s robot arm uses sensors on the skin to read how it flexes, then translates that to a variable grip using motors. It doesn’t even bother with actual fingers–this hand is built for drumming alone.
In some ways, Barnes’s hand is better than the original. It can hold and manipulate two drumsticks simultaneously, for example, or tap out a rhythm at 40Hz. “Which is ridiculous,” says Mason Breton, a PhD student working with Weinberg. “Nobody can do that.”
How does it sound? Check out The Atlantic’s fantastic video. You can even see Barnes, the cyborg drummer, playing in a band with Weinberg’s eight-armed marimba-playing robot, Shimon.