Robots can do a lot: they can chant at funerals, swim, guide you through airports, and even dance their way to a Guinness World Record. Now, a robot called YuMi has made its conducting debut in Italy, leading an orchestra and renowned Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli in three pieces of music including “La Donna è Mobile,” from Verdi’s opera Rigoletto. YuMi (as in “you and me”) was created by technology company ABB, which claims the robot is the world’s “first collaborative dual-arm robot.” It performed Tuesday night at a charity gala for the first International Robotics Festival.
ABB says the robot’s performance was developed by capturing the movements of maestro Andrea Colombini with a process known as lead-through programming. That means the robot’s arms were guided to follow the conductor’s motions meticulously; those movements were then recorded and further fine-tuned in software.
“The gestural nuances of a conductor have been fully reproduced at a level that was previously unthinkable to me,” Colombini said in a statement. “YuMi achieves a very high level of fluidity of gesture, with an incredible softness of touch and expressive nuancing.”
YuMi was first introduced to the market in April 2015. ABB envisioned it being used for automation where people and robots can work “side-by-side on the same tasks.” ABB does acknowledge that, though YuMi demonstrates remarkable capabilities, it’s still pretty unlikely the robot would ever take over for actual human conductors, because of the artistry and technique needed in the profession. It’s not the first time a robot has conducted an orchestra, either: Honda’s humanoid robot Asimo did the same several years ago, though its movements are a bit more stilted.