Lady Gaga Robotic Piano

David Bowie Tribute Performance

2016 Grammy Awards

Lady Gaga's robotic piano developed by andyRobot

Introduction:  At the 2016 Grammy Awards Lady Gaga performed a tribute to the late David Bowie that included holograms, live 3D projection mapping on her face and a robotically controlled keyboard that swayed and danced to the music [1]. The motion of the ABB® robot arms was animated in sync with the music using Robot Animator® and the inverse kinematics feature that allowed the piano motion to drive the motion of the robot arms.

Artistic Design Objectives:  David Bowie was known for his constantly changing personas and his visions of the future and space travel embodied in such songs as Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars and Space Oddity. Gaga wanted to highlight his contributions to music and popular culture by creating an experiential tribute and a futuristic multisensory experience for a six song medley prepared for the show. To achieve this part of her vision she wanted to make the piano appear alive with undulating motion synchronized to the music as she played it [2].

 

Gaga’s vision is to combine art and technology to create powerful new experiences. To achieve the choreographed piano Lady Gaga enlisted the help of andyRobot. His vision is to amplify the artists' capabilities and enable them to express themselves on an exponential level. He followed Gaga's vision to develop an instrument that had a new dimension, it was alive. To do this the two robots functioned as mounts for the piano and needed to move in synchrony so that they didn't tear the keyboard apart. As Gaga played Bowie’s classic, “Suffragette City” a rose-gold keyboard that was mounted atop the two robotic arms moved up to meet her hands as she started to play. The mechanical arms needed to move to the rhythm of the song while keeping the keyboard steady enough for the singer to control the keys [3]. 

Scroll to 1:10 to see Lady Gaga play the robotic piano

Development and Implementation: The development process started with the song that Gaga was to perform while playing the robot piano. According to andyRobot, “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 robots calculated their own skeletal system motions to follow the parent's movements. [4]”

 

Despite the meticulous planning and design, the robotic team ran into a problem during rehearsals. andyRobot contacted a colleague at NASA, Brian Lim, head of JPL's Planetary Landing Testbed initiative. According to Lim, “Because the robot positioning was extremely precise, slight misalignment for any reason could generate extremely high and undesirable loads. The model keyboard andyRobot used for programming the robot was significantly softer and lighter than the actual keyboard used on the stage. So, when the final keyboard came in, it had more complex movements that caused the robots to fight each other, resulting in load errors that did not appear with the softer model of the keyboard. [4]” Lim continues, “In the short time that they had to fix the problem, I suggested adding "squishiness" with a thin piece of rubber that gave some compliance between the robots and the keyboard. This allowed the robots just enough give and allowed them to work together without screaming, "Error!"”

 

andyRobot highlights the challenges and intense preparations required to work in an environment like the Grammy Awards. “It's heart-stopping. Plans go out the window when you have one band unloading and the next loading in. One is performing on left; the other is loading in on the right. Typically, loading at concerts takes hours. It's very tedious and precarious. We had checklists just like a pilot does in an airplane. And if we had problems we had disaster recovery plans in place.”

Robotic piano created for Lady Gaga by andyRobot

References: 

 

[1] Serjeant, J. (2016, February 2). Lady Gaga Will Perform Tribute To David Bowie At The 2016 Grammy Awards. The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved January 3, 2020, from https://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Music/2016/0202/Lady-Gaga-will-perform-tribute-to-David-Bowie-at-the-2016-Grammy-Awards?cmpid=mkt:ggl:dsa-np

 

[2] Cohen, B. (2016, February 16). The Technology Behind Lady Gaga’s Grammy Tribute To David Bowie. From The Grapevine. Retrieved January 3, 2020, from https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/arts/technology-behind-lady-gaga-grammy-tribute-david-bowie

 

[3] Miller, J. (2016, February 16). How Lady Gaga Turned Into David Bowie For Her 2016 Grammys Performance. Vanity Fair. Retrieved January 3, 2020, from https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2016/02/lady-gaga-2016-grammys-david-bowie-performance-video

 

[4] Lalwani, M. (2016, February 20). Lady Gaga’s Robotic Keyboard Had Some Help From NASA. Engadget. Retrieved January 3, 2020, from https://www.engadget.com/2016/02/20/lady-gaga-robotic-keyboard-grammys-nasa/?guccounter=1

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