Sunday, May 18, 2008

Robot 'conducts' orchestra for first time

Robot 'conducts' orchestra for first time

A robot has conducted an orchestra in a live performance for the first time.

Asimo, a white 4ft 3in robot designed by Honda, helped the Detroit Symphony Orchestra performance of "The Impossible Dream" from "Man of La Mancha."

"Hello, everyone," Asimo said to the audience in a childlike voice, then waved to the orchestra.

As it conducted, it perfectly mimicked the actions of a conductor, nodding its head at various sections and gesturing with one or both hands. Asimo took a final bow to enthusiastic shouts from the audience.

"It is absolutely thrilling to perform with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. This is a magnificent concert hall," Asimo said.

Later, a cellist joined the robot onstage to receive an award for his efforts in music education.

Honda spokeswoman Alicia Jones said it was the first time Asimo has conducted an orchestra, and it may be the first time any robot has conducted a live performance. ASIMO stands for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility.

ASIMO has its limits. ASIMO's engineers programmed the robot to mimic Charles Burke, the Detroit Symphony's education director, as he conducted the piece in front of a pianist about six months ago. But it cannot respond to the musicians.

During the first rehearsal, the orchestra lost its place when ASIMO began to slow the tempo, something a human conductor would have sensed and corrected, said bassist Larry Hutchinson.

"It's not a communicative device. It simply is programmed to do a sense of gestures," said Leonard Slatkin, the orchestra's musical director. "If the orchestra decides to go faster, there's nothing the robot can do about it. Hopefully, I keep that under control."

But several musicians also said ASIMO was more realistic than they expected.

"The movements are still a little stiff, but very humanlike, much more fluid than I thought," Mr Hutchinson said.

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