Just days after Japan introduced its first robot priest, Italy envisaged a robot taking the role of a conductor for a premier orchestra that was unveiled at the First International Festival of Robotics.
The event, which was held yesterday, also had the famous Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli perform with the Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra. However, sadly, this time around it was the robot conductor which literally stole the show. Made by the Swedish – Swiss tech firm ABB, the two-armed robot, known by the name YuMi, was seen guiding the tenor and the team of musicians through some great classical compositions like ‘La Donna è Mobile’, the famous aria from Verdi’s “Rigoletto.”
The event, held in the beautiful city of Pisa, Italy, also saw YuMi conducting soloist Maria Luigia Borsi as she sang the melodious ‘O mio babbino caro’ from Puccini’s ‘Gianni Schicchi’.
However, all these accolades did not come easy for YuMi. In order to make the event a roaring success, YuMi had to undergo rigorous training. Famous conductor Andrea Colombini himself utilized a process known as “lead-through programming”, which involves holding the robot’s arms, and physically guiding them through the task. For its part, YuMi had internally memorized all the movements and can repeat them on receiving instructions.
ABB’s software RobotStudio was also utilized to fine-tune the movements, especially 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.
In response to a media query, Colombini regarding his experience in training a robot said:
YuMi is good when it comes to technique but is ultimately not gifted with human sensitivity. 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.