On the Chinese side, they are also not far behind and demonstrate great ambitions with robots such as CyberOne. In a recent clip, Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi boasted how their device can perform an extremely complex combination of synchronized movements.
But it’s not about walking or jumping, it’s about something much more fun. For the first time, we saw a real robot playing drums just like Charlie Watts, John Bonham, or Dave Grohl.
That may not sound like much, but it’s no small feat.
To date, the most useful and practical robots being developed replicate a very limited portion of human capabilities – such as the articulated arms used in factories around the world. Still, others are based on simpler creatures such as Boston Dynamics’ robotic dog Spot.
In fact, just two years ago, Boston Dynamics showed off how their humanoid robots and Spot could dance in sync to the song “Do You Love Me?” by The Contours.
For its part, Xiaomi’s CyberOne goes one step further, managing to perform several different actions at once. He is able to precisely coordinate a series of complex movements, including hitting drums and cymbals, tapping the sticks together, and pressing a pedal.
But how does it all happen?
First, the drum position and beat speed commands are set online. CyberOne is then informed via a MIDI file what instrument to use, what notes to play, how loud and how long to play them, and with what effects, if any.
Finally, the robot uses an offline database of movements to generate those for its performance, taking care to use the right tool at the right time.
It is important to have synchrony in the movements so that it is clear which limb should hit which part of the instruments. The robot must also know not to hit its hands together while playing.
These are things the human brain understands subconsciously and automatically, but a robot that plays drums requires a lot more pre-planned setup.
Demonstrating such complex physical abilities has no practical value, and requires enormous effort, time, and resources, but is an important advance because it means that if a machine can be taught to play music or dance, it will be able to perform other activities as well.
Humanoid robots differ from ordinary robots because they are designed to perform natural movements. However, machines can often be impractical in a real-world environment and need complex setups to perform the simplest functions. Like standing up straight without falling over.
However, CyberOne has other very valuable qualities. It is equipped with artificial intelligence with the ability to “semantic recognition” and guess human emotions according to the voice of the interlocutor.
It can recognize 45 distinct emotional states in humans and react to a further 85 natural sounds.
Such a robot with the ability to play drums and respond to emotions could potentially be taught to perform other complex tasks and interact freely with its surroundings.
“We are working on the second generation CyberOne and hope to further improve its ability to move and interact,” Zeyu Ren, senior hardware engineer at Xiaomi Robotics Lab, told IEEE Spectrum.
“At the hardware level, we plan to add more degrees of freedom, integrate self-developed hands and add more sensors. At the software level, more robust algorithms for controlling movement and vision will be built in,” adds the scientist.
Who knows? In the future, we might actually see a mechanical version of Charlie Watts in concert.