yumi abb robot
The YuMi robot by Abb conducted an orchestra on Tuesday. abbgroup/Instagram

On Tuesday evening a robot took the stage of the Verdi Theater in Pisa, Italy. The robot was there to conduct the Lucca Philharmonic orchestra for three of the 18 arrangements that night. The event was part of the International Robotics Festival there.

The robot was created by the Swiss company ABB and its name, YuMi, stands for “You and Me.” The description of the bot says it’s “working together to create endless possibilities.” It was introduced to the market in 2015. It’s designed to work side-by-side with humans in manufacturing environments doing the same tasks that humans can do while also offering safety for those who work around it. It’s so accurate that it can even thread a needle so it’s also safe to have it handle fragile items like jewelry or electronics.

The Italian conductor Andrea Colombini trained the robot prior to Tuesday night’s concert so that it would be prepared with the correct motions for each song it conducted. The conductor trained YuMi by holding its arms and hands and guiding it through the movement of conducting and the robot recorded these movements. This process is called “ lead-through programming. ” The movements were then fine tuned using software and the motions were matched with the music. Then when YuMi tried the motions on its own it was able to mimic what it had been guided through.

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“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, according to an ABB press release. The success of YuMi in conducting the orchestra is a step toward more fluid motions for robots in the future.

Not only did YuMi conduct the orchestra, it also conducted the world-renowned singer Andrea Bocelli. The performance was called “A breath of hope: from the Stradivarius to the robot.” The bot only performed for part of the evening. “It was so much fun to perform with YuMi, ABB's collaborative robot. It showed that a robot could really conduct an orchestra, but only with the excellent work of very talented engineers and a real maestro. Congratulations to the team that pulled this off,” said Bocelli, according to the ABB press release on the event.

While the robot did an outstanding job, it did have its restrictions. The success of the event was also highly dependent on the members of the orchestra who kept the tempo of the performances. Had they sped up or slowed down, YuMi wouldn’t have been able to adapt the way a human conductor could meaning the performance would have collapsed and been ruined.