New 3D-printed robot hand plays piano

Researchers at University of Cambridge programmed it to play a number of short musical phrases Scientists have been building and programming piano-playing robots for decades. But there’s something different about a new robotic hand that tickles the ivories with techniques usually reserved for humans. Rather than relying on a maze of motors, as decades of piano bots have, the hand — introduced on Wednesday in a paper in Science Robotics — operates passively, meaning its fingers are not individually connected to any motors. Instead, its design mimics human anatomy: to perform a range of actions just by way of a simple mechanical arm attached at the wrist. “Our aim is to move away from the traditional approach in robotics, where one motor gives one behaviour, because that doesn’t scale,” said Josie Hughes, a researcher at the University of Cambridge who led the development of the hand. Her hand, for now, is far from mastering Chopin or Debussy. But it’s capable of performing different styles and dynamics, and it can eke out a decent Jingle Bells . The research is another step in the effort to design soft robots that move with the nuance of bodies, said Cecilia Laschi, a professor at the BioRobotics Institute of Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Italy, who was not involved in the study. Developments in this field might someday lead to robots that can explore natural environments or perform medical diagnoses by touch. The researchers fabricated the hand with a 3D printer that blended hard plastic and soft rubber to create ligaments and joints with varying degrees of stiffness. Then they attached the hand to a robot arm that is commonly used in industrial assembly lines.NY Times

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