The world’s first conductor robot has taken to the stage

A completely new kind of conductor took to the stage last night, in a concert hall in Pisa.

Called YuMi, the robot developed by technology company ABB conducted Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli and the world-renowned Lucca Philharmonic orchestra, at a charity concert for the gala of the First International Festival of Robotics.

The robot conductor took the lead for 15 minutes during the concert entitled “A breath of hope: from the Stradivarius to the robot”. As part of this, Bocelli sang La Donna è Mobile, from Verdi’s Rigoletto.

“It was so much fun to perform with YuMi, ABB’s collaborative robot,” said Bocelli. “It showed that a robot could really conduct an orchestra, but only with the excellent work of very talented engineers and a real maestro.”


Andrea Colombini, director of the orchestra, helped prepare YuMi for the event. First, his movements were captured and copied by YuMi. YuMi’s attempts at these movements were recorded, then the robot’s moves were fine-tuned, reaching an unexpected level.

It managed to move fluently and smoothly, rather than in the jerky fashion one might associate with robot movements.

“Setting up the interaction between the elbow, forearm and wrist of the robot, making use of its versatility in repeated and demanding attempts to break down the upbeats and downbeats, was very successful,” Colombini said. 

Conducing an orchestra is a daunting task, involving the bringing together of each individual musician. This means it is a good test of the capabilities of any new robot.

“I think tonight we’re truly making history and writing the future of robotics applications,” said ABB CEO, Ulrich Spiesshofer, after the performance.bocelli_and_yumi_robot

“YuMi demonstrated how intuitive, how self-learning this machine is – how wonderful our software really is in learning the movement of a conductor, sensing the music, and really conducting an entire team.”

The company says the ultimate goal is not to replace human conductors with robots. “It is unlikely robots will ever prove capable of combining the scholarship, artistry, technique, interpretation and charisma of a skilled human conductor,” it says. Instead, this event was to show exactly how well humans and robots can work together.

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