Looking like the twin brother of Star Wars villain General Grievous but sporting a mohawk, this four-armed, drum-playing robot mysteriously showed up on YouTube a few days ago with little information provided, but all the potential for going viral. Though the bot could have performed a drum cover of a variety of old school ditties, it's been programmed to embrace its inner rebel by covering The Ramone's Blitzkrieg Bop.
Now, automated drumming was first achieved with electronic drum machines, which have been commercially available for over 50 years. But having a robot play real drums is altogether different as it captures the action and attitude that makes drummers rock stars as well as sounding authentic.
So perhaps this can serve as a gauge of where robotics technology is at by asking the question, who can perform a drum cover of punk classic better: a robot or a human?
To answer this, watch the following video (courtesy of lichenthrope) as the head-banging bot tries to channel drummer Tommy Ramone:
Surprisingly, this robot is not new. In fact, two videos of the bot were posted on YouTube (here and here) from the same performance at Glastonbury 2008, which also profiled two robot pole dancers. Since then, the origins of this bot remain murky (anyone know? comment below).
Now, here's the second video performed by a biological organism with two arms fewer and a smaller drum kit:
I'm not a trained musician, but the human drummer seems to play the song tighter and have a better feel for the musical style. Adje1960, who uploaded the video to YouTube as part of a collaboration, is probably also comfortable playing with other human musicians. I'm guessing the robot drummer is a solo player.
CHALLENGE: Drum cover of a punk classic
Yet, it's a short-lived victory. Other similar robot drummers have been in the works for years (such as Steve and P.E.A.R.T.). Look to the future of music and you will see that robots and artificial intelligence are all up in its business. On the robot side, Toyota has been developing Partner Robots to accompany human musicians and the German company Festo recently announced the development of a robotic quintet that can compose music and then perform it, just to name a few examples. Artificial intelligence is also poised to take over the music world with apps like Shazam that can identify any song by just a portion of the tune and algorithms that can predict whether a song with be wildly popular or not.
Will robot performers be the mainstay of bands some time in the future? A magic eight ball would probably read "All signs point to yes!" But like many activities in the Robot Vs. Human realm, humans still derive great pleasure from doing things that robots can do. Otherwise, wouldn't drum machines be the standard instead of the exception?