Bocelli sings praises of robotic conductor

Danny Woods
September 14, 2017

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.

A completely new kind of conductor took to the stage last night, in a concert hall in Pisa.

In what is being called a world's first, YuMi replaced its human counterpart by successfully conducting the Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra at the Tuscan theatre, sweeping the baton in flawless pattern alongside Bocelli as the operatic La Donna E' Mobile reached its climax. The dual-armed robot, designed by Swiss firm ABB, made its debut to mark the First International Festival of Robotics. Grammy-nominated tenor Andrea Bocelli and soprano Maria Luigia Borsi also sang at the gala.

Andrea Colombini, director of the orchestra, helped prepare YuMi for the event. "YuMi demonstrated how intuitive, how self-learning this machine is - how wonderful our software really is in learning the movement of a conductor, sensing the music, and really conducting an entire team".

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Among the guests was ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer, under whose leadership YuMi was developed.

"It was not love at first sight", Colombini said.

Yumi's smooth, human-like movements are a big improvement on its Honda-built "rival" Asimo, which conducted the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in 2008. Writing in a blog post ahead of the performance, Colombini described the process as "satisfying, albeit challenging"; consisting first of programming via performance and then fine-tuning to synchronize the robot's movements with the music. In other words, the robot can move its arms in the appropriate ways at the appropriate times within the aria, as previously instructed by a human conductor. "The robot uses its arms, but the soul, the spirit, always comes from a human".

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