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Humanoid robot YuMi will conduct the Lucca Philharmonic in Tuscany on September 12, performing a concert of opera highlights with Andrea Bocelli, the UK’s Telegraph has reported. The concert, which will be the climax of a gala for the end of the International Festival of Robotics in Pisa, will feature the Italian tenor singing La donna è mobile from Rigoletto while soprano Maria Luigia Borsis will perform O mio babbino caro from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. The robot will also conduct a passage from the famous Intermezzo of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana.
Swiss robot YuMi. Photo © ABB
Maestro YuMi was built by Swiss company ABB and is being touted as the closest a robot has come to mastering the nuances of a human conductor. “The Robotics Festival will have the prestige of hosting the first automaton in the world which, with two hands and movements of rare similarity to human ones, will execute three of the most famous and respected excerpts of operatic repertoire,” Italian news outlet Il Fatto Quotidiano said.
This event comes almost ten years after Honda’s robot ASIMO made his debut conducting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, sharing a programme with cellist Yo-Yo Ma. ASIMO was found lacking, however.
“This thing doesn't have any eyes," DSO French horn player David Everson told NPR at the time. “You can't see its eyes. They can't convey any kind of emotions to you other than ... It's standing up there, it's not moving forward, it's not moving back. It's not making little small gestures or giving anybody any cues.”
Andrea Colombini, director of the Puccini e la sua Lucca International Festival and the man who trained YuMi, is confident in his student’s abilities. “YuMi has a very high level of fluidity of gesture, incredible softness and expressive nuancing,” he said.
“The robot uses its arm, but the soul, the spirit, are always those of man,” Colombini said. “The robot remains and will remain only an aid, perhaps so as to be able to carry out, in the absence of the director, the first rehearsal, before the director steps in to make the adjustments that create the material interpretation of a musical piece.”
“This is an incredible step forward given the rigidity of gestures by robots until today,” he said. “Yumi can become a valid helpmate.”