Robot 'conductor' steals the show from Italy's top tenor

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Humanoid robot YuMi conducts the Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra performing a concert alongside Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli at the Verdi Theatre in Pisa, Italy on Wednesday. - Reuters



PISA - Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli's voice soars to the rafters of the Tuscan theater, but all eyes are on the orchestral conductor beside him - a robot with an apparent penchant for Verdi. The concert in the heart of Pisa is a world first, with two mechanical "arms" conducting live music at the grand finale of the first International Festival of Robotics. The Swiss-designed YuMi sweeps its baton skywards with one hand, while the other curves around in a caress that spurs on the strings as the operatic "La Donna E' Mobile" reaches its climax. But music lovers beware: YuMi can conduct set pieces, but cannot improvise, react or interact with the musicians. "It was extremely difficult to train," says Andrea Colombini, the conductor of the Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra which performed with Bocelli and soprano Maria Luigia Borsi on Wednesday. YuMi, designed by robotics leader ABB, was taught to mimic Colombini's gestures. The maestro said the automaton was far more sophisticated than its "rival" Asimo, the white four-foot (1.2-meter) robot designed by Honda which conducted the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in 2008. "We're not talking about Asimo's limited up-and-down, one-arm movement... YuMi is extremely flexible and its arms have the same mobility as mine," he said. "There's no way it could replace the sensitivity and emotion of a conductor, because a robot has no soul. It's just an arm, not the brain, not the heart," Colombini conceded. - AFP


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