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Robot that can solve the Rubik’s cube and thread a needle conducts Italian orchestra in world first

  • ABB's dual-armed YuMi robot becomes the first to conduct an orchestra.
  • The robot performed in Pisa Tuesday evening as part of Italy's 'First International Festival of Robotics'.
  • YuMi performed alongside Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli and the Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra.

Italy, a country steeped in ancient tradition, has taken a stride forward in the twenty-first century race towards automation, becoming the first country to showcase a robot-conducted orchestra.

YuMi, a dual-armed robot designed by ABB, accompanied Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli and conducted the Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra at a gala event in Pisa's Teatro Verdi Tuesday evening.

The performance was a world first by a robotic conductor and celebrated Italy's 'First International Festival of Robotics', which kicked off Friday.

YuMi conducted three pieces, including Bocelli's rendition of 'La Donna e Mobile' from Verdi's Rigoletto and a solo by Maria Luigia Borsi of Puccini's Gianni Schicchi.

The robot was trained by Italian conductor Andrea Colombini. Writing in a blog post ahead of the performance, Colombini described the process as "satisfying, albeit challenging"; consisting first of programming via performance and then fine-tuning to synchronize the robot's movements with the music.

"The gestural nuances of a conductor have been fully reproduced at a level that was previously unthinkable to me. This is an incredible step forward, given the rigidity of gestures by previous robots," Colombini wrote.

Tuesday's performance marks the latest milestone for Swedish robotics firm ABB, which first unveiled YuMi in April 2015.

Described as a "collaborative" robot, it is designed to perform alongside humans and complement the workforce. Already it has demonstrated its ability to solve a Rubik's cube and threat a needed.

Collaborative dual-arm robot YuMi is pictured at the Swiss automation group ABB booth at the Hannover Messe industrial trade fair in Hanover, central Germany on April 13, 2015.
Tobias Schwarz | Getty Images
Collaborative dual-arm robot YuMi is pictured at the Swiss automation group ABB booth at the Hannover Messe industrial trade fair in Hanover, central Germany on April 13, 2015.

However, such developments have faced criticism over concerns that developments in robotics could outpace new job creation and risk job losses.

Colombini insisted that YuMi would not do away with the need for humans to inject "spirit" and "soul" into orchestral performances.

"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," he added in his post.

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