Just a few months after its debut in August, Xiaomi is looking for ways to show off the unique capabilities of its humanoid robot, CyberOne. Instead of putting it to work on an assembly line, Xiaomi propped it up behind a digital drum kit and let it bang out a rhythm, but Ringo Starr, Dave Grohl, and Chad Smith don’t have to worry about losing their jobs yet.
To date, the most useful and practical robots we’ve developed only replicate a very limited part of a human’s capabilities, such as the articulated arms used in factories around the world, or are based on simpler creatures, like Boston Dynamics’ robot dog, Spot. That hasn’t stopped companies like Tesla, Boston Dynamics, or Xiaomi from pursuing research into very complicated humanoid robots that walk around on two legs and interact with the world using a pair of arms—just like we do.
The general idea is that a robot that looks like a human, moves like a human, and functions like a human should be able to easily take over a job already handled by a real person. Want a delivery truck to operate autonomously? Just have a humanoid robot climb into the driver’s seat. Need a temporary replacement for a factory worker on an assembly line? Train a humanoid robot to use the tools and equipment the human already uses. The pursuit of a humanoid robot is all about making a form factor that can navigate a world designed by and for humans, while being adaptable enough to step into any human role—like a drummer.
Humanoid robots may never be able to replicate the spontaneous moves of a performer like Mick Jagger, but they’re very good at carrying out pre-determined tasks with a high level of precision, so Xiaomi’s robotics researchers figured a relatable demonstration of this would be to have CyberOne play the drums.
Instead of years of rehearsing in a garage or a band member’s parent’s basement, CyberOne is simply provided a digital MIDI file for a performance, which is used to extract and determine the drum beats that need to be played. The robot’s arms and legs have the range of movement needed to play a full drum kit, but there are a few things that have to be taken into a consideration for a performance.
Which limb is hitting which piece of the drum kit is the most important, but the robot has to also ensure there won’t be any unwanted collisions while playing, either with the instrument, or its own limbs, which may be simultaneously reaching for another part of the kit. It’s something the human brain does subconsciously and automatically, but a robot playing the drums requires far more pre-planning.
The speed limitations of the robot’s movements also have to be taken into account when planning its performance, because playing the drums is really all about timing, and each drum or cymbal hit has to be in perfect sequence and happen at a very specific time. Admittedly, CyberOne’s performance isn’t going to impress any music fans—it definitely sounds like a musician who just enrolled in drumming 101—but it does help demonstrate the potential and adaptability of a humanoid robot, and helps Xiaomi further justify the millions its already spent on developing CyberOne.