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3D Printed Robotic Hand Plays Piano


Scientists at University of Cambridge have developed a 3D-printed robotic hand which can play simple musical phrases on the piano by just moving its wrist.

It was made by 3D-printing soft and rigid materials together to replicate of all the bones and ligaments but not the muscles or tendons in a human hand.

Using this 'passive' movement in which the fingers cannot move independently -- the robot was able to mimic different styles of piano playing without changing the material or mechanical properties of the hand.

The robot was ‘taught’ to play by considering how the mechanics, material properties, environment and wrist actuation all affect the dynamic model of the hand. By actuating the wrist, it is possible to choose how the hand interacts with the piano, allowing the embodied intelligence of the hand to determine how it interacts with the environment.

The researchers programmed the robot to play a number of short musical phrases with clipped (staccato) or smooth (legato) notes, achieved through the movement of the wrist.

Despite the limitations of the robot hand, the researchers say their approach will drive further research into the underlying principles of skeletal dynamics to achieve complex movement tasks, as well as learning where the limitations for passive movement systems lie.

This approach to mechanical design can change the how we make robots.The fabrication approach allows us to design mechanically intelligent structures in a way that is highly scalable.

Researchers can extend this research to investigate how we can achieve even more complex manipulation tasks: developing robots which can perform medical procedures or handle fragile objects, for instance This approach also reduces the amount of machine learning required to control the hand; by developing mechanical systems with intelligence built in, it makes control much easier for robots to learn.

The 3D Printed Robot research is funded by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

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