This Robot Just Became the First in the World to Conduct an Entire Orchestra

The humanoid robot YuMi made a big splash last night when he conducted several pieces at the Verdi Theatre in Pisa, Italy in conjunction with the First International Festival of Robotics.

This Robot Just Became the First in the World to Conduct an Entire Orchestra
Andrea Bocelli on stage with YuMi. ABB

In recent years, robots have been taking on a number of tasks previously considered impossible, and along the way proving us wrong about the extent of their capabilities. Well, last night the humanoid robot known as YuMi—a clever combination of the words ‘you and me’—did just that when he conducted the Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra at the Verdi Theatre in Pisa, Italy. Also present was Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.

Rehearsals were allowed for the robot to memorize and incorporate the precise hand movements and gestures used by resident conductor Andrea Colombini. This was assuming, no doubt, that the musicians were able to maintain a consistent tempo. In the end, the robot successfully conducted three of the 18 pieces, two of which included the aria La Donna e’ Mobile, from Verdi’s opera Rigoletto.

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The event took place as part of the First International Festival of Robotics, which is being held from September 7-13. The two-armed robot was designed by Swiss firm ABB, a company which designs for vast spectrum o customers.

First International Festival of Robotics

YuMi appeared at the theatre to mark the opening of the First International Festival of Robotics in Pisa, Italy. In organizing this festival, the city is hoping to build on the success of last year’s Robotics Congress which was also organized in the city—the city has been carved out an influential place “in the field of robotics research and applications”. 

This Robot Just Became the First in the World to Conduct an Entire Orchestra
Andrea Bocelli and ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer with YuMi before the concert Source: ABB

It looks like the reviews very positive from the audience, but of course the opinion of the conductor is the most important. Colombini said of the evening:

“We basically had to find time to understand his movements. When we found the way, everything was pretty easy,” adding, “It is absolutely fantastic. And the technicians were fantastic just to make everything perfect, especially in the length and in the speed of the gesture, which is very important”. 

This Robot Just Became the First in the World to Conduct an Entire Orchestra
Source: ABB

Last night’s events were a very interesting and fruitful experience; however, few would argue that a crucial element was missing: the wonderful expressiveness on the face of the conductor. With a sweep of facial moments, a conductor can motivate, criticize and even inspire a group of musicians. Essentially, he or she breathes unique life into the music. 

Legendary conductor-composer Pierre Boulez says about this unique skills, “You have to impose your will – not with a hammer, but you have to be able to convince people of your point of view.” In terms of public opinion, the concert highlighted clearly an important point scientists in the field of robotics are trying to make: under the right circumstances, the work of robots as well as human efforts can exists side by side.

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