Scientists develop 'human-like' 3D printed robot hand that can play the piano

Joseph Archer
- PA

Cambridge scientists have developed a 3D printed robotic hand that is so "human-like" it can play the piano with finesse.  

Researchers used the advanced manufacturing technique to create a robot hand using both rigid and soft materials, allowing it to mimic the bones and ligaments of a real hand.   

When attached to a piano, the hand was able to play pieces by composers such as Mozart, Scarlatti and Gershwin, as well as seasonal songs including Jingle Bells.

The mix of materials allowed its fingers to have flexibility as well as stiffness. This meant it could play the instrument using different styles, like a professional pianist.

The 3D printed hand marks a significant improvement on previous robot hands, which have either been too rigid or mechanical to play with dexterity.  

The scientists noted that if robots are to do more complex tasks that only humans can perform, then they need to have natural hands and limbs, not just advanced brains.

"Our bodies consist of smart mechanical designs such as bones, ligaments, and skins that help us behave intelligently even without active brain-led control,” said research leader Dr Fumiya Iida said.

The robot hand, developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge, was made by 3D-printing soft and rigid materials together  Credit: PA

A computer system “taught” the robot hand, that was on the end of a mechanical wrist, how to play like a musician. Its human-like qualities meant it could conduct techniques such as staccato and legato, which changes how musical notes sound on the piano.

It could also perform glissandos, a series of consecutive notes played quickly, and chords, a number of notes played together.

The hand was created using a 3D printer, which makes objects by slowly adding thin layers of material onto to each other.  

The research, published in the journal Science Robotics, could help inform the design of robots that are capable of more natural movement with minimal mechanical parts.

The scientists believe their research can drive further studies to develop robots which can perform medical procedures or handle fragile objects in the future.