Playing the piano with a robotic third thumb

An extra robotic thumb can be controlled well enough to play the piano with eleven fingers!

The robot finger has been tested by professional pianists on a grand piano.

Currently, most of the research on robotic limbs for healthy humans focuses on grasping objects and reducing the workload of industrial workers. However, robotics experts at Imperial College London had another issue on their minds: the possibility of revolutionizing music for pianists.

The third robotic thumb allows reaching a greater number of chords, reaching keys that are not naturally within reach. It is also possible to create impossible chords with just ten fingers.

Since 2015, Aldo Faisal, from Imperial College London, and his colleagues have been developing a robotic “third thumb” that is attached to the user’s hand next to the little finger. The thumb is controlled by the user through electrical signals from the movement of his foot.

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The supernumerary robotic thumb (SR3T) with two degrees of freedom is controlled by signals coming from the user’s foot. The researchers found that a pianist can learn to play the piano with 11 fingers in one hour.

The supernumerary third robotic thumb was created to enhance the performance of the piano, allowing the pianist to press the piano keys beyond their natural range; leading to a functional increase in your skills and technical feasibility to play with 11 fingers. The robotic finger uses sensors, motors, and a human interface algorithm to control its movement in real time. A proof-of-concept validation experiment has been conducted to demonstrate the efficacy of the robotic finger for playing musical pieces on a grand piano.

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Touching the thumb with a robotic finger

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