It’s a unique approach to what is normally a more time-consuming task: placing AI technology at the front door to screen everyone coming through the facility.
That’s what’s being done at the Ontario Regiment Museum.
“We wanted to take away all that person-to-person interaction,” says Jeremy Blowers, the museum’s executive director.
“It makes everything touchless, eliminates all the paperwork and keeps a computerized record.”
Using the artificial intelligence, which is named Master Corporal Lana, the museum can keep track of visitors for the purpose of contact tracing, as well as to ask those COVID-19-related questions that we are all used to.
It’s one of several steps being taken by the museum as they get ready to open their doors under Stage 3 of Ontario’s reopening.
“Really, it’s showing we have a touchless layer of safety and security in our museum that would make them feel more welcome in our environment,” Blowers said.
The state-of-the-art technology was created through a partnership with a local company, Cloud Constable and Intel Realsense. Using the same tech you would see on today’s laptops for facial recognition, Lana uses an Intel Realsense camera, allowing for human-like interactions.
The AI even allows it to measure someone’s temperature if they are standing in front of it. In addition to this, it’s also constantly learning — and even has a sense of humour.
“The face image is captured from the Realsense camera and it’s relayed through our system and up into cloud,” says Michael Pickering, president and CEO of Cloud Constable.
“This is the first place in the world that this technology is actually going to be used.”
It’s nickname is AVA, short for Animated Virtual Assistant. Much like SIRI on an iPhone, the assistant can tell jokes, basic facts and even recognize facial expressions.
Originally, Pickering says, this was meant for greeting people at large-scale events — but due to the coronavirus pandemic, they had to pivot.
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“It was meant to be able to check people in and help people get around conferences, events. You know, a lot of conferences have booths and vendors,” Pickering said.
“AVA was going to communicate with the server and then print out their ID badge.”
Where the museum comes in, they were going to help debut the tech by using it to recognize VIP members of the facility. But they quickly changed plans when they realized what it could do.
“We’ve ended up with something that is important for public safety, but also enhances the museum visitor experience,” Blowers said.
Because of its unique approach to what is usually a mundane experience, museum officials are also hoping it may be a draw for customers, after being shut down since March.
“We’ve had zero revenue coming in the door,” says museum president Alan Duffy. “Zero sales of merchandise.”
“Everything came to a standstill, and it was quite a shock. We were concerned about the morale of the staff and volunteers.”
Now, the Ontario Regiment Museum is gearing up to open this Saturday, with some restrictions in place.
“It’s a very controlled environment. People walk in and follow the lines, and they go out,” says Duffy.
Groups will be guided through the facility with pylons, and social distancing will be in place as well. Arrows will also help direct the flow of traffic to ensure there is no crowding in the area.
Patrons can check out a collection of battle tanks and army vehicles from around the world. But what makes it unique are the live tank demonstrations usually held on the weekends.
“All these vehicles you see, they run, they work,” says Duffy. “We display them outside. We bring history to life.”
Those demos aren’t happening yet. But organizers say to stand by for shows down the road as they slowly get back on track.