Georgia Tech, Google Team Up To Bring New Beat To Drummer’s Life

After seven years of work with Georgia Tech, drummer Jason Barnes has an advanced robotic prosthetic to take his musical talents to the next level.

Barnes lost his lower right arm during an electrical accident in 2012. While studying at the Atlanta Institute of Music and Media, he was looking for a prosthetic option that gave him more control over his music. “My first prosthetic only allowed me to play within a certain threshold without having to stop and manually adjust something to make it tighter or looser. So that’s where the robotic aspect comes into play — to allow me to essentially flex my muscle or extend my muscles…that would control the grip on the stick accordingly for faster or slower bounces with the stick,” Barnes told Hypepotamus.  

His professor introduced him to Gil Weinberg at Georgia Tech’s Center for Music Technology.

Weinberg said receiving an email about Barnes’ idea was a “great coincidence,” as he was looking for a new project to further explore the relationship between technology and the human body. 



For Weinberg, the building process was about finding “with the right amount of detection and prediction from his muscle that will be expressive to him.” 

This was important to move the technology from research into a functional product. “The goal for this project was to make it as light and operational and functional as possible so Jason can actually own it,” Weinberg added. 

For the last 18 months, Google’s AI and TensorFlow experts have joined to make the custom drumming arm a reality.

To develop a machine learning system, Weinberg said, “it all depends on the data you collect. The more data points you have, the more accurate.

This meant Barnes spent countless hours with Weinberg’s team to collect important data on electrical activity. “We used Google TensorFlow to find patterns, and to see the correlation between what kind of electrical activity describes loosening and tightening of the muscles.” 

With his new robotic arm, Barnes told Hypepotamus he is ready to get back to playing as concerts resume in 2021. He is also looking to explore a “live performance hybrid of live percussion and drums, mixed with electronic elements.”

Weinberg said he is now looking to see if the technology built for Barnes can help other musicians.  Through new NSF (National Science Foundation) proposals, “we are trying to see if this can be commercialized, and this can be generalized to other musicians.”