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Robotic Taiko Drum Team Competes In Festival

Drumming ‘bots, as seen on Robot Watch.

Asashi.com (J) and TBS News (J) are reporting on a historic festival that for the first time included a group of robots, and Robot Watch (J) has the pictures.

Kitakyuushuu City, located on the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands in Fukuoka prefecture, has for the past 400 years celebrated the Kokura Gion Daiko festival. For the past 60 years this has included a parade of floats bearing teams Taiko drummers competing against each other. Until this year, though, there has never been any non-human competitors.

Yasukawa Electric, a company based in Kitakyuushuu City that builds industrial robots, celebrated the 60th anniversary of the competition by entering a team of drumming robots. So, a team of programmers set about giving these industrial arms some rhythm.

Each of the robot arms has seven joints, so they can move in the same way as a human arm. Actually getting them to play properly, however, was quite a challenge—playing Taiko drums is more than just banging away with a stick. To better understand the motions involved, the programmers started out by taking drumming lessons themselves, which was hard enough.

In the end, it took four months, but they managed to pull off the feat. So, in the parade, one of the floats had a team of three robots (four if you count the two arms separately, as the company does). One robot and a pair of independent arms sprouting from the platform played the drum, and a fourth handled cymbals. The robots were, of course, dressed in traditional robes, and the two usually headless robots with bodies even got styrofoam faces for the crowd.

According to Asashi Shimbun, one of the programmers went on record as calling it a “huge success.” The judges were impressed by the effort as well.

If you want to see for yourself, check out Robot Watch’s page (Japanese, but lots of photos and several high-rez video clips), and TBS News’ report (also Japanese, but the video speaks for itself).