When Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli performs with the Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra this Tuesday, he won't necessarily be the center of attention. That's because his conductor will be YuMi, a two-armed robot made by Swedish/Swiss tech firm ABB. The machine will be guiding him – and the orchestra – through "La Donna è Mobile," the famous aria from Verdi's "Rigoletto."
The performance, which is part of the First International Festival of Robotics, will also see YuMi conducting soloist Maria Luigia Borsi as she sings "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi." It will take place at the Teatro Verdi in Pisa, Italy.
In order to train the robot, conductor Andrea Colombini utilized a process known as "lead-through programming." This involved holding the robot's arms, and physically guiding them through the task. YuMi has memorized these movements, and can subsequently repeat them on command.
ABB's RobotStudio software was also used to fine-tune the movements, and to ensure that they stay in sync 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.
"YuMi is good when it comes to technique but is ultimately not gifted with human sensitivity," says Colombini. "The robot uses its arms, but the soul, the spirit, always come from a human. I imagine the robot could serve as an aid, perhaps to execute, in the absence of a conductor, the first rehearsal, before the director steps in to make the adjustments that result in the material and artistic interpretation of a work of music."
You can see part of a rehearsal, in the video below. Honda's bipedal ASIMO robot, incidentally, has previously conducted the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.