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Mumbai: Touted as the world’s truly collaborative robot, YuMi, has a special task to perform tonight in Italy.

It will act as a conductor and direct “La Donna è Mobile"—the famous aria from Verdi’s “Rigoletto"—as Italian tenor, recording artist, and singer-songwriter Andrea Bocelli sings at the Teatro Verdi in Pisa, Italy, ahead of a unique performance this week to mark the First International Festival of Robotics.

The robot, which is already known for it dexterity in threading a needle and solving the Rubik Cube, will also conduct a passage from Mascagni’s intermezzo from the opera “Cavalleria Rusticana". You can get a sneak peek of the video.

Short for ‘You and Me’, YuMi is made by Switzerland-based power and automation group ABB. The research and development (R&D) centre in India had a major role to play in the software development of YuMi

In fact, at the ‘Make in India’ event held in Mumbai in February 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi even spent a few minutes at a stall that displayed a dual-arm robot.

A typical industrial robot comes with a fence around it to keep away humans from getting too close and getting hurt, but YuMi doesn’t need one. Its grippers are dexterous too—it can handle anything from a watch to a tablet PC. It also has a sensitive force-control feedback, flexible software and built-in safety features that collectively allow for programming through teaching rather than coding. The two arms make it possible to install YuMi on workstations that are currently used only by humans.

Andrea Colombini, who trained YuMi, explained in a blog, that “...working to master the nuanced technique of a human orchestra director with YuMi has surely been one of the most satisfying, albeit challenging, tasks of my professional career".

In the blog, he explained that the robot’s performance was developed in two steps. First, Colombini’s movements were captured with a process called “lead-through programming", where the robot’s two arms are guided to follow his motions with great attention to detail. These movements are then recorded.

The second step involved fine tuning the movements in ABB’s RobotStudio software, where the organizers made sure that the motions were synchronized to the music. “Of course this took some technical expertise from ABB, but the lead-through programming let me focus on naturally doing what I do best, bringing the music to life," Colombini said.

Colombini acknowledges that YuMi is good when it comes to technique but “is ultimately not gifted with human sensitivity". The robot uses its arms “but the soul, the spirit, always come from a human". “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," Colombini concluded.

Collaborative robots, also known as cobots, are complementary to industrial robots. A recent technology survey by ABI Research of management level decision makers at manufacturing companies revealed that the adoption of collaborative robots among manufacturers is strong and ongoing. Manufacturing firms with more than 250 employees were much more likely to have collaborative systems in operation or have that intention in the near term, according to the report.

According to Dan Kara, Research Director, Robotics at ABI Research, “Although industrial robots have found much success supporting manufacturing operations, the usefulness of these same systems has been limited by their high costs, complex programming, inflexibility, and inability to work in close association with humans. As a result, the market for collaborative robots, human-scale systems that are easy to set up and program, are capable of being used by workers with a wide range of qualification levels, can support multiple types of automation, and can work safely in close proximity to human workers, is very active at this time."

Both large, established robotics suppliers, as well as newer, smaller firms, are developing and introducing innovative collaborative robotics technologies into the market. Examples include Universal Robots (Teradyne), KUKA, Rethink Robotics, ABB, Kawada Industries, Fanuc, Franka, Denso, and Comau.

Researchers are meanwhile working on infusing artificial intelligence in cobots too.

In a new paper , presented at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI) in Australia in August, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) described their work developing a system called “commands in context" (ComText) that allows robots to understand a wide range of commands that require contextual knowledge about the world around them.

In their study the researchers loaded ComText onto a Rethink Robotics Baxter robot and had it perform a variety of tasks after receiving verbal cues and commands. According to their paper the robot was able to perform the correct task 92.5% of the time by combining prior knowledge from verbal statements with visual observations of its workspace.

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