Researchers have created a 3D printed robotic hand that can play simple musical phrases on a piano by moving its wrist. The hand was developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge and uses 3D printed soft and rigid materials together to replicate bones and ligaments.
There is no replication of muscles or tendons in the robotic hand. Lacking muscles and tendons limits the range of motion compared to a human hand, but it can still perform a wide range of movements using passive movement. The fingers are unable to move independently, but the hand can mimic different styles of piano play using that passive movement.
The team believes that the results of their study could help inform the design of robots able to move more naturally with less energy use. The group says that piano playing is an ideal test for these passive systems because it is a complex and nuanced challenge according to the team.
The robot was taught to play by considering the mechanics, material properties, environment, and wrist actuation impact a dynamic model of the hand. The robot was programmed to perform some short musical phrases with either staccato or legato notes that were achieved using movements of the wrist.
The team admits the hand is just the basics for now, but with that single wrist movements, they can get complicated and nuanced behavior from the robotic hand. This research will drive more research into underlying principles of skeletal dynamics and learning where the limitations for passive movement systems lie.