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Pisa’s robotic’s fair kicked off in high fashion, to the sounds of Andrea Bocelli singing “La donna e’ mobile” from Verdi’s Rigoletto. Off to Bocelli’s side one can see a roughly human-sized robot that looks like it belongs on an assembly line. Rather than snapping together parts of a fidget spinner, however, this bot is assembling each section of the Lucca Philharmonic.
The Swiss-made conducting robot is called YuMi, from the phrase “you and me.” It conducted The Lucca Philharmonic orchestra through three pieces from this season’s repertoire with no complications.
DW.com reports that the company which designed YuMi, ABB, recorded the movements of the orchestra’s regular conductor Andrea Colombani. He held the robot’s arms as he conducted the group in rehearsal, and the movements were memorized by the robot for later use.
Colombani seemed very impressed by YuMi:
The flexibility of the arms of YuMi is absolutely unthinkable. Not even incredible. Unthinkable for a machine. It is absolutely fantastic and the technicians were fantastic. Just to make everything perfect, especially in the length and the speed of the gesture, which is incredibly important.
While this is an incredible feat of engineering, it would be interesting to see how the orchestra would fare if YuMi were conducting a piece that the musicians had not previously learned. While a conductor is essential to an orchestra, previous knowledge of a piece and some rehearsal time is equally essential to the orchestra, which can then perform with even the least talented conductor.
It is a little ironic, and also hugely interesting, that they chose Andrea Bocelli, a blind singer, to highlight this robot’s first performance. Since Bocelli cannot see the conductor, most conductors will follow his lead through a performance. Undoubtedly Bocelli knows the piece well enough that there’s no way he could have gotten lost, but we’ll be really impressed when a robot can take its cues from a singer.