TOURBOT - Interactive Museum Tele-presence Through Robotic Avatars

RTD Project funded by EU-IST Programme

Key Action: 3
Action Line: 3-2-3
Total Cost: 1,718,150 Euro
Commission funding: 1,088,790 Euro


Project objective(s)

The goal of this project is the development of an interactive TOUr-guide RoBOT (TOURBOT) able to provide individual access to museums' exhibits and cultural heritage over the Internet. TOURBOT operates as the user's avatar in a museum by accepting commands over the Web that direct it to move in its workspace and visit specific exhibits. The communication network is, thus, effectively extended by the introduction of interactive, mobile robotic platforms as terminal nodes. The imaged scene of the museum and the exhibits, is communicated over the Internet to a remote visitor. As a result the user enjoys a personalized tele-presence to the museum, being able to choose the exhibits to visit, as well as the preferred viewing conditions (point of view, distance to the exhibit, resolution, etc). At the same time, TOURBOT is able to guide on-site museum visitors providing either group or personalized tours.

In order to realize the TOURBOT system, the consortium will develop a multimedia Web interface that will allow people to interact with the tour-guide system over the Internet. Furthermore, TOURBOT will have an on-board interface for interaction with on-site visitors of the museum. Using the Web interface, people all over the world will be able to tele-control the robot and to specify target positions for the TOURBOT system. Camera controls will be used to choose the part of the exhibition the user wants to inspect in more detail. The robotic tour-guide will possess a multimedia information base providing a variety of information about the exhibition at various levels of detail. Thus, the TOURBOT system will serve as an interactive and remotely controllable tour-guide, which provides personalized access to exhibits with a large amount of additional information.

A tele-operated interactive tour-guide robot requires a high degree of autonomy since it operates in a populated environment in which humans are also present. Therefore, the project includes the development of a safe and reliable navigation system for TOURBOT. The robotic avatar will be equipped with a series of state-of-the-art sensors that allow it to acquire information about its environment. The navigation system uses this sensory information to adapt the robot's internal model of the environment and to plan the robot actions.

The use of tele-operated tour-guide robots has several advantages for the exhibition visitor, as well as for the provider of such a service. First, TOURBOT allows a more effective use of exhibitions. A Web-based tour-guide robot can serve and educate people day and night, since a remotely controlled robot is not limited to the opening hours of the museum. Compared to static or even remotely controllable cameras for viewing parts of the museum, tour-guide robots can provide significantly more interaction capabilities. The mobility of the robots allows Web visitors to choose a wide variety of view-points and get the feeling of "being present" in the museum. This can be particularly advantageous for people with restricted mobility. Moreover, increased interaction capabilities with the exhibits themselves can be offered to the user, which may be useful when visiting a science or technology museum. In addition to this increased interactivity, the robotic agent can deliver high-resolution images over the Web, thus being extremely beneficial to professionals and specialists. Such services can be provided selectively (upon user request), provided that a trade off in image resolution/delivery time can be tolerated.

The TOURBOT concept provides visitors the ability to individually exploit the expertise stored in the tour-guide. A tour-guide robot can react flexibly to the requirements of the visitors. It can, for example, offer dedicated tours on temporary focuses of the exhibition or, alternatively, give overview tours. Thus interactive tour-guide robots allow a museum a more flexible service and increase their offer of information; furthermore, robots improve the flexibility for the planning of tours. Additionally, robotic tour-guides will contribute to the positive image of a museum, since they emphasize up-to-date technology and future-orientation. The latter is very important, especially for technology- and science-oriented museums.

Workplan

The TOURBOT project addresses the development of a robotic avatar, able to provide individual access to museumsí exhibits over the Internet. Such mobile agents allow virtual tele-presence in physical environments, effectively supplementing existing network infrastructure by allowing mobile avatars to replace network terminal nodes. The project goals will be pursued by a consortium comprised by technology providers, brokers of technology to museums and end users (museums).

In order to achieve its goals in a tractable way, the project is broken down into nine work packages (WP), with specific (sub)goals. The systematic execution of WPs and accomplishment of individual goals will result in successful completion of TOURBOT.

Work-package
No

Workpackage title

1

Project Management

2

Dissemination and Implementation

3

Application Specification

4

Site Information

5

Hardware Configuration

6

Avatar Navigation

7

Interfaces

8

Integration

9

Assessment and Evaluation