Gizmos & Gadgets: If You Thought the Job of Orchestra Conductor was Safe from Automation Think Again

September 13, 2017 – A robot named YuMi(R) led the Lucca Philharmonic and tenor Andrea Bocelli at Pisa’s Verdi Theatre this week. The robot conducted three pieces including the aria, La Donna e’ Mobile, from Rigoletto.


Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli sings an aria from Rigoletto while YuMi conducts the Philharmonic in the background.


YuMi, which is short for you and me, is a product of the Swiss robotics company ABB, one of the world’s leading suppliers of industrial robots and robotic software applications. YuMi features dual arms and was developed in 2015 to serve multiple purposes. It learns from humans who can guide it through a task until the robot can match the human activities. This is very much the same as how Baxter, an American-built robot learns.

YuMi has the dexterity to thread a needle but at the Verdi Theater, the robot’s task was to learn the music and the motions a conductor makes in leading an orchestra. Its teacher was Italian conductor, Andrea Colombini. Colombini taught YuMi by holding its arms to guide it through the movements a conductor makes while the music played. The robotic software then matched those movements to the music. States Colombini, “YuMi has a high level of gesture and fluidity in its movements, as well as an incredible nuance of expression.” I think Colombini expected the robot to act in a manner similar to those seen in bad science fiction movements where often robots act “robotic.”

YuMi pulled off its debut as a conductor but there was a little flimflammery going on. The orchestra set the tempo to match the robot’s movements. If a change or alteration in timing had occurred YuMi would not have been able to adapt and would quickly have been an out of sync conductor.


YuMI is described as the first robot designed to work side-by-side with humans in complete safety in the workplace. No cage needed. Humans need not fear YuMi.


ABB describes YuMi as the world’s first truly collaborative robot, capable of working with humans while ensuring their safety. Its dual arms and flexible hands, state-of-the-art camera vision and robotic controls give it great flexibility in workplaces such as factory assembly lines. Ideally suited for working in small spaces similar to the environments humans occupy in small parts factories, YuMi, states ABB, has “changed the rules” when it comes to automation.

So Colombini and Andrea Bocelli can sing YuMi’s praises, but what happens when YuMi learns to lead the orchestra without the maestro’s help?


Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...