Move over keyboard cat, there’s a new ham-fisted pianist ready to capture the hearts and minds of the internet. Alyssa Batula, a graduate student at Drexel University’s Music Entertainment Technology (MET) Lab, has taught a Robonova humanoid robot how to play the keyboard. While the fingerless robot is far from a musical prodigy, it has been programmed with nine different positions that allow it to play notes on a C scale at any interval desired. Watch it pound out a very cute rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in the clip below. Oh, its robot parents must be so proud!
Before you start dreaming about the robot version of Elton John winning Grammys, you should know that the work with Robonova is more about coordination that it is about playing the piano. After all, we’ve got plenty of automated keyboards. Heck, we even have artificial intelligences that will compose original music. We don’t need a humanoid that plays the harpsichord. What we do need is a robot that can perform complex repetitive tasks in a real-world environment using a basic set of programmed movements. To that end, the MET Lab is also working on robots that can dance to any beat using 30 preprogrammed positions. Here’s a clip of their work with the Jaemi HUBO robot:
The lessons learned by programming robots to dance and play instruments will eventually be used to create humanoids that can move and act like us. Nine keyboard positions and thirty dance moves is a small set of skills, but it’s a good beginning. That’s especially true when you consider that the robots are applying those piano positions in complex variations (well, as complex as Twinkle, Twinkle gets) and are using those dance moves without preprogrammed routines. Eventually robots will be taught all the possible body positions humans can handle and the right time to use each. Until then, we’ll just have to settle for the robotic equivalent of a four year old’s piano recital. Does Robonova take requests? I haven’t heard Row Row Row Your Boat in a long time.
[image credit: MET Lab]
[source: Drexel University]