Robot conductor leads human orchestra

The two armed YuMi robot, primarily designed for industry, successfully led the Lucca Philarmonic orchestra alongside top Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli last night.

The vaguely humanoid robot, designed by Swiss technology firm ABB, showed no signs of nerves as it raised its baton to conduct.

YuMi made its debut at the Verdi Theatre in Pisa to mark the First International Festival of Robotics in the Tuscan city.

“YuMi has a high level of gesture and fluidity in its movements, as well as an incredible nuance of expression,” Andrea Colombini, the usual conductor of the Lucca orchestra, told Il Fatto Quotidiano newspaper.

“It is an incredible step forward given the normal rigid gestures seen in robots up until now.”

Colombini, who trained the robot, wrote in a blog post ahead of the performance that the experience was “satisfying, albeit challenging”. The training first consisted of programming via performance and then fine-tuning to synchronize the robot’s movements with the music.

It takes 17 hours to train the robot to conduct a six minute performance.

YuMi, whose name is derived from the phrase ‘you and me’, had its arms held by Colombini in rehearsals so the computer could "memorise" the correct gestures. The robot is not able to improvise and any unexpected change in tempo from the musicians would have been ruinous.

The robot conducted three of the 18 pieces performed at the concert, including the famous La Donna e’ Mobile, from Giuseppe Verdi’s masterpiece, Rigoletto.

“The gestural nuances of a conductor have been fully reproduced at a level that was previously unthinkable to me. This is an incredible step forward, given the rigidity of gestures by previous robots,” Colombini wrote on his blog.

YuMi was originally built as an assembly robot and includes flexible hands, parts feeding systems, camera-based part location and state-of-the-art robot control.

Last week a robot took part in a traditional Hindu ritual known as aarti in which flaming wicks are waved before a deity, accompanied by chanting or hymns. 

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