Digital Robot Concierge at Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall

Summary: Development of software and implementation of a digital robot concierge for Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall’s signature event “Wan Qing Festival of Spring 2018”. “Wan Qing Festival of Spring” is an annual festival celebrating the traditions of Chinese New Year through fun and engaging activities. The museum seeks to draw in audiences including young families and precinct residents. Facilitation of the use of the digital robot concierge during the event includes provision of logistic support, necessary manpower and administrative support during and after the implementation.

Funding Agency: National Heritage Board (NHB)

Phase I: Software Development and Customization of Content

Deadline: 15th January 2018

After presenting a feasibility study to NHB, we concluded that we are going to implement 2 particular programs to run on the robot: an Introduction at Front Desk Reception and an Interactive Quiz at the Special Exhibition Area. The Introduction Program activates once the robot detects a face in front of it, and the demo voiceover is provided by the Chinese branch of AvatarMind.

Introduction Demo

Interactive Quiz Demo

We presented the demo programs to NHB and after further feedback and discussions, 3 areas for improvement were identified:

  1. Robot voice: The robot’s accent is too foreign and heavy, it might not be palatable or easily understood by the local audience.
  2. User interface: The font is too formal looking. The graphics can be more visually striking (eg. more bright and bold colors), to attract the attention of children.
  3. Movement: Instead of having the robot simply narrate the Introduction, the robot can incorporate more animated movements, to make for a livelier, more memorable robot-user interaction.

We have also decided that the robot will remain stationed in one area throughout the entire event, to create a controlled environment that is easier for data collection.

Phase II: Review and Finalization of Customized Content

Deadline: 31st January 2018

17th Jan: We brought iPal to the museum for preliminary on-site testing and demonstration for Lianhe Zaobao, Singapore’s leading Chinese newspaper. During the session, someone asked about the ‘gender’ of the robot, a rather unexpected question since robots don’t have an inherent gender. It made us wonder- would children respond differently to ‘male’ and ‘female’ robots? The gender of robot can be another factor to explore in our user study.

Explaining the robot’s functions to the museum staff

19th Jan: Lianhe Zaobao published their article on the project!

To address the issue with the robot’s voice, we replaced the demo voiceover with text-to-speech- one with the Chinese version of firmware (pink iPal) and the other with the US version (green iPal). The visual interface was designed to be more colorful and child-friendly, and more robot movements were introduced into the program.

Introduction  (Revised Version)
Interactive Quiz (Revised Version)

1st Feb: After making those changes, we did another on-site test at the museum. Feedback was generally positive, however, the green iPal sounded too adult-like to some people. They preferred the pink iPal’s higher pitched voice, but due to its Chinese firmware, its English pronunciation was unclear. We decided to continue to use the US firmware, making two corrections to the robot’s voice: raising the pitch to sound more childlike and relatable to our target audience, and increasing the speed to sound more enthusiastic when it talks.

Phase III: Installation of Digital Robot Concierge 

Installation Date: 23rd February 2018.

Schedule for “Wan Qing Festival of Spring 2018”:

Date Timing(s) of robot’s appearance
24 Feb 2018 (Sat) Reception area 10.30am – 12.30pm
2pm – 4pm
Special Exhibition 4pm – 6pm
25 Feb 2018 (Sun) Reception area 10.30am – 12.30pm
2pm – 4pm
Special Exhibition 4pm – 6pm

We will be collecting relevant data during the event for our user study and it will be published on our website. Get excited!

Update:

The robot concierge has successfully welcomed and interacted with hundreds of visitors throughout the weekend! We are now consolidating the data with the museum and working on a report.

Here are some photos taken during the event:

Kids learning about Chinese culture and history via robot 

A sibling duo works together to solve the robot’s question

The robot was surprisingly popular with the elderly too!

The robot demonstrating traditional Chinese song and dance for the kids

We also asked visitors to write down their thoughts on the robot concierge on post-its: