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Music Robotics Hardware

Toyota Robot Violinist Wows At Shanghai Expo 121

kkleiner writes "The Shanghai World Expo got a special treat this past week in the Japanese pavilion, when Toyota's famed violin-playing robot thrilled the crowd with a rendition of the Chinese folk song Mo Li Hua (jasmine flower). The bipedal artificial violinist hasn't been seen much since its debut back in 2007. Now we have footage of the Toyota bot playing Mo Li Hua in Shanghai as well as its original rendition of Pomp and Circumstance from 2007."
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Toyota Robot Violinist Wows At Shanghai Expo

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  • Now we just need robots to write hit records!
    • Or that can playing something other than pentatonic scales!

      • Or that can playing something other than pentatonic scales!


        If noatkl can make interesting music on my macbook, then this robot ought to be able to do something besides mess around on the black keys.

    • What do you mean? I thought those American Idol "hits" are already cranked out by some machine? I mean, it's not like these run-off-the-mill songs need any thought to be created.

      • by jhoegl ( 638955 )
        You really think that there is a song out there about something original yet to be written?

        • by WiseWeasel ( 92224 ) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @08:45PM (#32318646)

          You've likely never heard anything quite like the robot's latest heartwarming masterpiece, Ode To Data Integrity. Certainly a worthy follow up to classic spoken-word lounge room hit, Destroy All Humans.

        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward


            I'm sure you're as shocked as somebody who sits at the patent office and says that nothing else original can ever be invented. Do yourself a favour and stop being dramatic.

          • Music however is extremely derivative and almost every topic has been covered already. Before you were born. I think the few ways you can write new content include by writing about current events or science...
        • Yes. Of course, 99% is derivative work, following the same accords and harmonies that have been (ab)used thousands if not million times before. But once in a blue moon, some (true) artist comes up with a new idea, a new way to arrange notes to create a new kind of music. It takes a lot of time between such events, but if you look back a century (or half a century) you will notice that music did and does evolve.

          Usually, today, when you hear something in mainstream music, it's already been done before, I give

    • That's what monkeys are for.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by damnfuct ( 861910 )
      and a robot RIAA
    • How then do you explain the existence of country and western "music"?
  • I salute you, Robot!

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Dear Humans,

      We no longer require musicians, please ensure they vacate the earth within the next 24 hours.


      The Robots

  • Robot band (Score:4, Informative)

    by Scrameustache ( 459504 ) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @06:47PM (#32317764) Homepage Journal

    They also have one that plays the trumpet: []

    And backup dancers.

  • wow (Score:3, Interesting)

    by v1 ( 525388 ) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @06:49PM (#32317784) Homepage Journal

    nicely done. I like how it sort of did that "swaying" thing that violinists do as they play, "throwing themselves into the music" so to speak. Gave it a MUCH more realistic feel.

    Though with all the lip-syncing going on these days, (even at the Olympics [], I have to have a slight suspicion that the performance wasn't "live" from the violin. They could have easily rigged it to not make a sound and simply play the sound out a hidden speaker on the 'bot. But that's just my pessimistic nature.

    And it didn't even fall down any stairs or anything either, that was a plus.

    • I don't think it was faked. In the second video the audience can be seen seated right in front of the robot. They should be able to tell where the sound comes from.
      • by v1 ( 525388 )

        They should be able to tell where the sound comes from.

        That was my initial thought also. But then I realized, they could easily have a speaker IN the violin. It never even came out of its hand. I'd have liked to see them play a few chords on it and then place it in its hand to take over, but I'd bet money that violin was bolted to his hand.

        • There has to be a synchronization between the movement and sound, especially you can see how the robot is able to change the angles.
        • The violin probably wasn't bolted to the hand, it just was holding the neck in an unrealistic way to compensate for the lack of dexterity. I'll begin to be impressed when the robot lifts the violin, places it's head on the shoulder rest and then removes the left hand to tune the strings...
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by FiloEleven ( 602040 )

            I'll be impressed when it sounds better than a mediocre high-school orchestra player. I was actually surprised at how poor of a performance it gave--the idea is neat, but I expected them to have something more polished before putting it in front of an audience.

            • Re:wow (Score:5, Insightful)

              by ahankinson ( 1249646 ) on Monday May 24, 2010 @09:43AM (#32322520)

              You're just demonstrating your ignorance. You do realize that even getting to this stage is a feat in engineering, right? Or that playing a musical instrument is a highly complex motor skill, and that you were just shown an artificial intelligence that can do it, right? Your metric is completely unrealistic - have you ever tried playing violin? It's not easy. The metric should be how much *better* it is than an unskilled player, rather than how much *worse* it is than a skilled player.

              Expecting them to have something more polished is like saying "Meh, people went to the moon. I expected them to go to Mars."

              • All I'm saying is that I'm not impressed by the performance. The tech is cool but they should have gone with an instrument where you can get away with less nuance, like a guitar or piano perhaps. The violin like all bowed instruments is very unforgiving when it comes to technique. Contrast the violin with their trumpet-playing robot [] to see what I mean. That performance is technically very good whereas the violin playing is not.

                Also, it's not AI and I am very aware of what goes into playing an instrument

      • I agree that it was real. It had no "soul" to the playing, it was just mechanically accurate (ie: very average high school violinist), but still a stunning engineering feat. The swaying and such did make him look more human. While I don't expect a robot to ever have the finess of a human player (although it can be programmed to COPY a version), it was still very, very impressive.

        • Re:wow (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Sir_Lewk ( 967686 ) < minus herbivore> on Sunday May 23, 2010 @07:37PM (#32318140)

          I'm not a musician of any kind so please excuse my ignorance, but what exactly is "soul" in this context? I've heard it mentioned numerous times, but never really defined. Does the music have no soul because it is technically accurate, or is that just a side note? Is a certain amount of carefully planned imperfection needed? Couldn't you program such imperfection into this robot?

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            Hmm. I think "soul" in a musical context means individual mannerisms and embellishments. Take for example this [] video of savant Glenn Gould and observe how he feels the music(skip to 2:05 for some coolness). You could view "soul" as the non-musical movements, kinda like interpretive dance.

            Technically, soul is the unique personal interpretation of the sheet music. Experienced musicians who know a piece well will, for example, play a certain passage more slowly because it's implied in the sheet music, even
          • I don't think anybody really knows because (so far as I know) it hasn't been studied, so everybody just believes whatever they want. It shouldn't be hard to run a Turing-style test for this, but (as with audiophile equipment) I think most people don't really want to know, mainly because they assume they already do.
          • Re:wow (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Pharmboy ( 216950 ) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @08:26PM (#32318500) Journal

            "Soul" is the minor imperfections that give music character and make the same piece unique from one musician to another. As an example: One of the tricks of using digital drums and making them sound like someone is sitting at a drum set is to mess with the quantizing a bit, randomize the beats by a measure of just a few microseconds so they are in time, but not PERFECT time. You might even put in very tiny errors that don't distract from the rhythm. No real drummer is "perfect", and drums that are perfect sound fake and mechanical, even if the tones are perfectly sampled.

            Same with any other instrument, but more so as you not only vary the execution of each note in a micro level, but also the dynamics (how loud, how soft a note is). Good violin playing will be more dynamic, with musician playing more aggressive in "busy" parts, and playing with a lighter touch in other places. It varies more than just the overall volume level, as playing harder and more aggressive on strings changes the entire tonal characteristics (ie: slightly more higher pitched harmonics for starters.) There was other things missing, such as no vibrato in any of the sustained notes (vibrating slightly up and down in pitch on a sustained note to give it depth).

            I was a musician for most of my life, playing primarily blues guitar, and while I can *show* you easily, I'm not the best at explaining it. Hope this helps answer a very valid question.

            • Thanks, this did help a lot.

            • by Kjella ( 173770 )

              And outside the world of ABX testing, "soul" is also the human need to anthropomorphize the musician. You could have a perfect CD or a "soulified" CD made by computers and it'd never provoke the same feelings as live music does. You can gather 10000 people to listen to a band but just to play the songs from CD and watch a video of the stage show? If you asked a robot he'd tell you the sensory input was 99.9% the same, if you ask people they'd tell you it was 1% of the experience. Sure, right now it got a li

              • by Phroggy ( 441 )

                ...going to a robot concert will be exactly like listening to a CD, the robot doesn't know you're there, doesn't care and doesn't feel the music even if plays (im)perfectly like a human.

                Two objections: first, plenty of people enjoy listening to CDs recorded by real musicians, and the music sounds full of "soul" to them. Yet a CD is just a bunch of 1s and 0s, a perfect (enough) mechanical reproduction of a human performance. If you can build a robot that can mechanically duplicate a human performance, then a recording of the robot will sound basically the same as a recording of the human.

                Second, microphones and speakers cannot reproduce the sound of live instruments. There's a huge dif

                • You are correct that live sound is far superior to recorded sound in both dynamics and in tone, but once you are there, there is more to the experience than "listening", just as there is more to live performance than playing a predetermined number of notes. Sitting in an audience listening to robots play instruments would just be boring, even if the sound was great. We can't identify with them, we don't want to be like them. When I watched Stevie Ray Vaughn live in concert, the performance *was* better t

            • It's a great explanation!
            • Right, but... I'm sure that there is a setting on the robot by which you can tell it to modulate its dynamics and the random rhythmic noise you mention would be even easier to introduce. Then you have the unique quirks of a genuine acoustic instrument, and with this combination, I'm sure a robot can produce music that sounds pretty darn soulful. Of course this requires some extra programming, and there is little hope that the robot would figure out on its own which parts deserve soulful emphasis, delay or w
              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by Pharmboy ( 216950 )

                You can program a robot to make random changes, but that isn't the same. A human doesn't try to make random errors, they put "expression" into it. My explanation of it being random variations is only a technical and quantifiable outcome. A trained musician could easily tell the robot's playing versus a humans because the variations wouldn't be within the normal expression of music, and would be just random. Just as a good musician can usually pick out digital drums in a mix. No matter how much you rand

                • It would be interesting, however, to see a robot adapt to playing music based on other music they have "heard" and as such alter their playing style to make the music... "better"... or at least in the way that their algorithm interprets "better". Would take a lot of 'training' with 'good' music though, and I'd hate to see what feeding in some 'bad' music might do though. Or if it would interpret general conversation as music...
            • by dintech ( 998802 )

              I would go a bit further and say that there is something else than can be explained as "soul". All music evokes a flowing change of emotions from one phrase to the next. How those emotions are felt, experienced and anticipated by the player also dictates how subsequent notes are articulated and played. This also is different from musician to musician and depending on mood, it could be different each time the piece is played.

              Mood and emotion are of course current shortcomings of robots so it's playing will b

              • My explanation was very mechanical as well, explaining the 'physical' differences that can be quantified, but you are correct that emotion is what causes these variations, and emotion is the soul. The variations are only the outcome. Robots will be able to COPY a passionate performance, but never create one, and even then there are nuances that are difficult to capture, kind of like what you miss when you switch from vinyl to CD. Yes, you get clarity and accuracy but at the loss of dynamic range and tone

            • So it will take 5-10 years to develop an algorithm that achieves this in a way that humans wont be able to distinguish the accoustic performance of a robot and human in a double blind experiment. It will also take forever for people to accept this.
              • Yea, just like we will have voice recognition software for everything in 5 to 10 years, 10 years ago. Getting it 90% right is easy, getting that last 10% that really makes a difference is exponentially difficult to a trained ear.

            • I thought the robot was using vibrato. With drumming, more than messing with the timing I'd simply modify the dynamics as you say, and also the pitch of the note to correspond to the dynamics. I was listening to Darwin Deez recently and even though he obviously uses a drum machine, it sounds okay simply using slightly different pitches for the snare each time.

              As someone who both plays instruments and has had a lot of fun in the past trying to simulate human imperfection in FPS bots in the past, I think it w

    • I think the violinist robot has plenty of issues other than needing to fake itself. For one it holds the violin funny which means it can't change positions, can't hold it's bow so it has a giant blocky handle to compensate, cheats on vibrato by using the fact that it has metal fingers so that it can't press and decompress the strings instead of rolling the fingertip, and the bowing sounds kinda rough.
  • One problem (Score:5, Funny)

    by Pharmboy ( 216950 ) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @06:54PM (#32317812) Journal

    There was only one problem, while the Toyota robot performed quite well, they couldn't get him to stop....

    • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

      Great, robots are vulnerable to solar flares too?

    • by mestar ( 121800 )

      Was he playing faster and faster?

    • Wont be long now before Toyota renames to Skynet.

      Or whatever it's called it in Animatrix. Who knew both problems could have
      been easily avoided with a simple working Stop command.
      Matrix and Terminator and movies could have been so much shorter,

      Humans "Stop!"
      Toyota Kill-All-The-Humans Robot "Stop completed."

    • When it gets the accelerator stuck, it plays "When the Devil Went Down to Georgia" on a golden violin in robot hell.

  • Over all the robot has some nice dexterity, but some real world strength and AI demos would go a lot farther. I am sure that this was a future or forward thinking technology. And music is a nice example of dexterity for the unit. But I would like to see an AI and voice recognition unit demoed to be really awed or inspired. But maybe I am rushing technology. I tend to demo complete cases and not partial. Maybe they are trying for more funding of this project. Or maybe its a lame attempt to portray fo
    • by Turzyx ( 1462339 )
      For a robot with limbs specifically to play this instrument, with programming to match, it is actually quite poor. It might be beyond the realms of the average robotics graduate, but from the worlds biggest car maker, I would expect much better. Very little progress since 2007. Clearly a PR stunt; I'm disappointed.
  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @07:10PM (#32317924) Journal

    That robots can do very gentle moves is already known and not really that revolutionary. We have had machines that produce complex or fragile products for a long time.

    What a robot/android needs to be capable of is to do these actions on its own, in the right circumstance and adjusted to the environment.

    So, can this robot be programmed to perform an X amount of moves that result in a musical performance (an animatronic) or can it be fed a piece of music and then play it on its own? Can it be told to go to room X and perform for patient Y the music that patient requests?

    Animatronics have long been capable of producing very life like results, but nobody is about to suggest that Jim Henson/ILM are the future of robots/androids.

    Yes, for a while these kind of performances served a purpose as it was very hard for early robotics to produce gentle movements. But we have solved the problem of the robot arm not crushing a human being, the AI element is what is lacking. We have the capacity to have a robot pick up an egg, but no robot so far can do it on its own so far.

    Nice performance, but I like to know how much of it is a robot, and how much a animatronic. Anyone got the answer?

    • Yes, for a while these kind of performances served a purpose as it was very hard for early robotics to produce gentle movements. But we have solved the problem of the robot arm not crushing a human being, the AI element is what is lacking. We have the capacity to have a robot pick up an egg, but no robot so far can do it on its own so far.

      Unfortunately, producing synthetic equivalents to bone, muscle and nerve are trivial compared to reproducing in silico the arrangements of the latter that have given rise to vision, spatial acuity and object recognition etc. Humans are the only animals that can play the violin (well) so you're left with the choice of making something dumb that can only play the violin or something roughly as smart as we are that can do many other useful things (perhaps even think?). We're talking about recreating a few hund

    • So, can this robot be programmed to perform an X amount of moves that result in a musical performance (an animatronic) or can it be fed a piece of music and then play it on its own? Can it be told to go to room X and perform for patient Y the music that patient requests?

      This is exactly what I want to know. How exactly would this compare to a player piano []? Exactly how abstract can the input to this robot be?

    • What a robot/android needs to be capable of is to do these actions on its own, in the right circumstance

      There is no universally agreed upon definition of robot. By all accounts, a remote-controlled device of any shape is called a robot, and devices that only perform preprogrammed moves at an assembly lines are called robots.

      We all WANT autonomous, aware robots, but devices don't need to be autonomous to be robots. Granted, this ambiguity of language is inconvenient, but ignoring it isn't going to make it go away.

  • Kind of reminds me of ST:Voyager episode Virtuoso [].
  • by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @07:28PM (#32318080) Homepage Journal

    The robot was playing the violin and the crowd was clapping. The crowd was wowing and cheering, but the player did not understand or even know about this.

    Question: was the robot just performing pre-programmed moves, was it really playing as if from notes and did it rely on its hearing to compensate for the sound at all?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Phroggy ( 441 )

      The robot was playing the violin and the crowd was clapping. The crowd was wowing and cheering, but the player did not understand or even know about this.

      If I were there, I would have applauded - not for the benefit of the robot, but for its creators, who have demonstrated a remarkable achievement. Clearly, there's more work to do, but I am very impressed with what they've accomplished so far.

      Question: was the robot just performing pre-programmed moves, was it really playing as if from notes and did it rely on its hearing to compensate for the sound at all?

      Those are good questions.

    • Question: was the robot just performing pre-programmed moves

      Question: Why would not assume that mundane explanation unless given extraordinary proof of the contrary?

      • well, they already built a robot, could as well teach it to play from notes, otherwise it would be a very laborious task to get it to play a different piece of music. The hearing part is not extremely difficult, sample the produced sound and compare to an expected sound wave that must be produced from the notes.

    • by Ksevio ( 865461 )
      People clap at movies they like where usually not even the staff of the theater can see or hear them much less anyone involved with the film. Basically people will clap at anything they like.
  • There (Score:4, Funny)

    by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Sunday May 23, 2010 @07:37PM (#32318136)

    There was only one small glitch during the rehearsal when they couldn't get it to stop playing.

  • Big deal... (Score:3, Funny)

    by trailerparkcassanova ( 469342 ) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @07:41PM (#32318162)
    Can it safely bring to a stop a runaway Lexus?
  • by 2phar ( 137027 ) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @07:47PM (#32318212)
    That's all very impressive, but let's see a Toyota fall down the stairs []
  • That's nothing new. I saw an entire robot orchestra at House on the Rock 18 years ago! []

    What? You mean they weren't really playing those instruments?
    • That's nothing new. I saw an entire robot orchestra at House on the Rock 18 years ago!

      So what? I saw a bunch of plushies in a jug band at a pizza parlor way before that.

  • Imagine begging a thing that looks like this for your life.

    Robot soldiers are an inevitability, and they will not be a joke like in the later Star Wars movies.

    It's going to suck real bad.

  • by purduephotog ( 218304 ) <> on Sunday May 23, 2010 @09:52PM (#32319068) Homepage Journal

    When it can play Flight of the Bumblebee, better than Itzhak Perlman and/or Joshua Bell, then I'll take notice...

    Or better still, when it can have new music 'downloaded' into it and interpreted based upon previous styles (such as baroque style)...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    A great but empty technological achievement.

    But I want machines to do the work I hate - the drudgery, the boring stuff. Playing music is a gift, it's fun, it's beautiful. Why bother having a machine do that when it cannot feel the joy? No point at all.

    I am a musician with an engineering degree. The latter was a complete waste of time, lo many years ago.

  • And I saw the Japan Pavillion, which is where the robot performs. The pavillion is divided into three sections. The first shows the clean technologies that are being used in Japan. The second is where the robot performs, along with some other technology demos. The third is a Chinese opera performance about the crested ibis, an endangered bird whose numbers have increased as a result of a joint breeding programme by China and Japan.

    The expo will be on until 31 Oct, by the way. But beware the crowds.

  • ... instead of QA'ing their car's control systems!

  • I'm just sorry for the guy inside that strange suit.
  • This is a machine operating a violin. Not a violinist.

  • This one has three violins: []

Sigmund Freud is alleged to have said that in the last analysis the entire field of psychology may reduce to biological electrochemistry.