ZURICH, Switzerland — YuMi, the world's first truly collaborative dual-arm robot, made its debut at the opera on Tuesday (Sept. 12) by conducting Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli and the Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra at the Teatro Verdi in Pisa. YuMi, which is manufactured by Swiss technology pioneer ABB, was invited to the stage by Bocelli, who performed the famous aria "La Donna è Mobile" from Verdi's Rigoletto. YuMi also conducted works of Puccini and Mascagni during its first night at the opera in front of a sold-out Teatro. Among the guests was ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer, under whose leadership YuMi was developed. The unique demonstration showed what can happen when advanced robotics meets the arts.

Like in previous performances held under the fresco-covered ceiling of the beautifully elegant Teatro Verdi, in Pisa, Italy, musicians sit attentive, instruments at the ready, eyes focused on the Maestro. Soloists stand ready as well, waiting for the conductor’s upward motion with the baton to begin. Yet this is no ordinary performance, and no ordinary conductor. Here, ABB’s YuMi, the world’s first truly collaborative dual-arm robot, is making its conducting debut.

That was the scene last night, as YuMi directed Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli in a program of Verdi at a charity concert for the gala of the First International Festival of Robotics. Over 800 illustrious guests from around the world enjoyed the program titled A breath of hope: from the Stradivarius to the robot.” 


Andrea Bocelli on stage with YuMi

In one of the most beautiful theaters of Italian tradition, Maestro Bocelli sang as YuMi directed “La Donna è Mobile,” the famous aria from Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” YuMi continued conducting as soloist Maria Luigia Borsi sang the classic soprano aria “O mio babbino caro” from “Gianni Schicchi” by Puccini. To conclude, YuMi also conducted a passage from Mascagni’s intermezzo from the opera “Cavalleria Rusticana.”


Maria Luigia Borsi on stage with YuMi

A 15-minute interlude in the evening program, this unique event showed that collaboration between humans and robots can work perfectly.

Maestro Bocelli was exuberant in his praise of the performance. “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,” he said afterwards.


Andrea Bocelli and ABB CEO Ulrich Speisshofer with YuMi before the concert

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

Maestro Andrea Colombini, director of the Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra, who helped prepare YuMi for the event, was excited by YuMi’s sophisticated technology. “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,” he said. The gestural nuances of a conductor have been fully reproduced at a level that was previously unthinkable to him.


Andrea Colombini and YuMi

YuMi achieved a very high level of fluidity of gesture, with an incredible softness of touch and expressive nuancing. This is an incredible step forward, given the rigidity of gestures by previous robots and proves how easily YuMi can be programmed to do the most delicate jobs in electro-mechanic assembly.

YuMi’s performance was developed in two steps. In rehearsals, Colombini’s movement were captured with a process called “lead-through programming,” where the robot’s two arms are guided to follow the motions with great attention to detail; these movements were then recorded. The second step involved fine-tuning the movements in ABB’s RobotStudio software, where the motions were synchronized to the music. With ABB’s technical expertise, the lead-through programming let Colombini focus on doing what he does best, bringing the music to life.

The first International Festival of Robotics has been a place for spreading awareness of robotics and of robotics applications, including collaborative industrial robots like YuMi.

While this performance gives an inspiring peek at the future, it is unlikely robots will ever prove capable of combining the scholarship, artistry, technique, interpretation and charisma of a skilled human conductor. The simple goal is to develop industrial robots that are easier to use and perform better with less human intervention.