Public Release: 

Handheld 'smart' museum guide unveiled

The device, which is enhanced by artificial intelligence, will guide visitors, ask questions and supply information on each museum exhibit. By the end of a visit, the device will know which exhibits interested the visitor and which ones did not

University of Haifa

We are now living in an age when technology touches every aspect of our lives. The development of a "smart" museum guide brings the ostensibly distant worlds of culture and technology together. In a cooperative project, researchers from the Caesarea Rothschild Institute at the University of Haifa and The Center for Scientific and Technological Research (ITC-irst) of Trento, Italy developed a "smart" museum guide which, using artificial intelligence, will be able to tailor a museum visit to the personal preferences of the user. The guide can pinpoint a visitor's location in a museum, find out what interests each visitor, play video clips and explanatory presentations and enable communication with friends in another part of the museum.

A cooperative agreement between the Caesarea Rothschild Institute and ITC-irst was signed three years ago with the goal of developing technological applications for cultural institutions and events. Their initial product, an interactive museum guide, was unveiled this week in the Hecht Museum at the University of Haifa. The guide is actually a hand-held computer that visitors use as they tour the museum. The guide not only teaches, but also learns about each museum visitor.

Visitors are often intimidated by museums. Written or even multi-media explanations tend to give general information and may relate to numerous exhibits, leaving visitors with many unanswered questions. The new guide was designed to overcome these problems. As a visitor approaches an exhibit, the guide identifies the exhibit and asks the visitor questions about it. The visitor can then choose the subjects that interest him. The guide can also play video clips that "bring the exhibits to life." During the visit, the guide learns about each visitor's interests and tailors further questions and information to his interests.

Each visitor will have a different experience, tailored to his interests. Like many of the latest technological innovations, the guide can communicate with other guides, preferably by SMS. A group of up to five users can SMS each other a message like, "You have to come see the ancient boat exhibit. You won't believe how incredible it is." When the SMS recipient approaches an exhibit, he will see the message relating to it and decide if it interests him.

Like every good guide, the interactive guide summarizes each visit at the end. The guide also asks each visitor to fill out a virtual questionnaire and give recommendations to improve future museum visits. "This is innovative use of basic research in the field of artificial intelligence. Our vision is that in another few years people will be able to come to any site that has installed this program with their own personal handheld computers, download the relevant information about the place, and begin a private tour. This program will know each person's interests based on previous use of the program and will be able to offer information that will most likely interest the user," explained Prof. Martin Golumbic, Director of the Caesarea Rothschild Institute at the University of Haifa.

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