“Born This Way” tune vendor Lady Gaga served up a David Bowie tribute set at last week’s Grammys that garnered mixed reviews, but can always boast have one unassailably neat quirk: NASA had a hand in the homage. (No, there wasn’t an astronaut you missed working as a roadie.)
It sounds strange to overlook, but do you remember Mother Monster’s moving rose-gold keyboard perched atop two robotic arms? That musical contraption was thought up by Gaga and put into action by a roboticist/computer animator working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory named Andy Robot. The sensibly named collaborator recently spoke with Engadget about this ambitious pseudo-futuristic take on the keyboard.
The two robots moved in synchrony so that they didn’t tear the keyboard apart. Imagine if one robot went too far to the left — it would tear the keyboard. We used the song itself. Once [Gaga] had the music done, we timed the robots by animating them with the music and synchronizing them to move in perfect unison. We use inverse kinematics — that’s the basis of the skeletal system for any human or animal. For example, if you reach and grab your wrist, your hand moves your arm. You’re not thinking about how your shoulder moves or your elbow bends, you’re thinking about where your hand is going. We used that system to make the keyboard the parent of the two robots. We were able to animate the keyboard in the computer program and move it around and both the robots calculated their own skeletal system motions to follow the parent’s movements.
So imagine if I took your palms and glued them to the bottom of the keyboard, I’d be able to move the keyboard and your arms would naturally calculate the rotation in each joint. The robots did the same using the IK system.