Band-Beesten: The Human-Assisted Robotic Drumset

Photo courtesy of University of Idaho Photographic Services

Engineering, computer science and music departments at the University of Idaho came together to develop a human-assisted robotic drumset, which debuted in the marching band last fall. Nicknamed the Band-Beesten, the five-piece drumset and its drummer traveled across the field with the rest of the marching band.

“The goal of [the Band-Beesten] was to create a device that would allow for instruments trapped in the pit to escape and become an actually functioning member of a marching band,” says Dan Mathewson, a graduate engineering student at the University of Idaho. He led a team of senior engineering students for the project.

The initial design was not successful for field use: The wheels were not stable, it did not make smooth turns, and it could not support the drums. The students then came up with an idea drawn from a new robot, known as a ballbot, which balances and moves on top of a sphere instead of legs or wheels.

Similarly, the Band-Beesten sits on top of three spheres (basketballs fitted with three motors), which allow the robot to move in any direction.

The Band-Beesten uses the motions of the human operating it to decide its direction. For its use in the University of Idaho’s marching band, the drummer wore a drum harness attaching him to the Beesten. While he played the drums, a computer read his movements and directed the robot’s motion. This automation allowed him to march across the field, even spin 360-degrees, while playing the drumset.

“The Beesten works by trying to stay in front of the drummer at a fixed distance,” Mathewson says. “If the cart is not in the right position, the drive adjusts to compensate. It works like power steering in a car. It only adds to what the drummer asks of it.”

To bring even more life to the project, computer science students added LED lights that flashed through the transparent shells of the drums.

The future of the Band-Beesten is unclear, but many have asked if it can be “bigger and better.” “The Beesten will truly make it possible for an instrument, no matter the size, to become part of the marching band,” Mathewson says.

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