A robotic maestro has conducted Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli and the Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra in a rousing Pisa performance of Verdi’s La Donna e’ Mobile.
YuMi, a two-armed robot developed by Swiss firm ABB, led the classical talents to perform three pieces in a gala to celebrate the Pisa Festival of Robotics.
It follows in the footsteps of conducting robot Asimo, which led the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in a 2008 first.
Then, the robot was trained to mimic the movements of a conductor in guiding the orchestra in a performance of The Impossible Dream from movie Man Of La Mancha.
YuMi, too, was trained to copy the movements of conductor Andrea Colombini, who guided the robotic arms to mimic flourishes he had mastered over a career of leading orchestras.
The process was recorded and software used to fine-tune its movements and synchronise them to the music before YuMi was ready to lead the orchestra.
Colombini said the robot had reproduced his movements to a once “unthinkable” degree, with a strong “fluidity of gesture” and “incredible softness of touch”.
He added that coordinating the interaction of the forearm, elbow and wrist of the robot – which was designed to work with workers on manufacturing lines – was a big challenge in the project.
But there is a limit to what YuMi can do.
Like the first Asimo conductor, the robot can only replicate the movements of conductors – not respond to the nuances of the music or encourage players to adopt a change of tone.
If there was a sudden change in tempo the results would have been disastrous.
“Yumi is good when it comes to technique but is ultimately not gifted with human sensitivity,” Colombini said. “The robot uses its arms, but the soul, the spirit, always come from a human.”