The coronavirus pandemic is changing job roles — even for those who exist only in the digital realm.
An animated virtual agent that greets visitors to a Canadian military museum is among the many working differently post-COVID. To change this virtual agent’s role, the museum’s tech provider has relied on a broad array of Intel systems, including the Intel NUC 9 Pro Mini PC.
The virtual agent, known as Master Corporal Lana, was developed for the Ontario Regiment Museum. This museum, based in Oshawa, Ont., holds Canada’s largest collection of operational military vehicles — tanks, trucks, personnel carriers and more, some dating back to the 1940s. Virtual agent Lana was developed by a local tech provider, CloudConstable, using its Animated Virtual Agent (AVA) software.
Animated virtual agent Master Corporal Lana
Prior to the lockdown, Master Corporal Lana used AI-powered functions to welcome visitors from her screen and provide useful information about the museum. She also could count visitors, help with crowd control, and even perform facial recognition. However, once the museum closed due to the pandemic, those skills were no longer needed.
Rather than shutting Lana down, the museum decided to redeploy the virtual agent. Now she welcomes the museum’s 100 or so volunteers, who are still needed to keep the collection of vehicles maintained and running. To protect the volunteers’ safety, the museum constructed a new vestibule. There, volunteers are now greeted by virtual agent Lana, have their temperature taken, and answer questions concerning their health and possible infection by the virus.
The installation is built around an Ergotron wall track that securely attaches CloudConstable’s setup, providing a secure, touchless self-service screening and protocol assistance system. Other elements include an Intel NUC 9 Pro Mini PC, speaker and mic, and custom connectors that shield the system from dust and heat generated by the museum’s vehicles.
The system also includes a prototype sensor array powered by an Intel RealSense depth camera and thermal scanner. CloudConstable’s AVA software uses the Intel RealSense depth camera vision-based interface to detect Yes and No head gestures.
If the system determines that a volunteer might be infected with the virus, it denies the volunteer’s entrance and instructs them to instead return home. The system can recognize individual volunteers, so that each volunteer receives a personalized greeting from virtual agent Lana.
RealSense, NUC adapted
To adapt Lana to her new role, CloudConstable used a range of Intel technologies. It adapted the AVA software using Intel hardware and software, including toolkits designed for AI and Intel RealSense depth cameras.
CloudConstable also adapted an Intel NUC 9 Pro Mini PC to run machine-inference models for facial detection and “head pose estimation.” The NUC’s Intel vPro Platform enables secure remote management with Intel Active Management Technology (AMT). Hardware acceleration was handled by the Intel Distribution of the OpenVINO toolkit.
Now Lana’s role is changing once again, as the museum re-opened on a limited basis on Aug. 15. To accommodate this change, the museum installed another AVA station near its main entrance.
There, Lana is outfitted with an Ergotron mobile cart so that she can check-in staff and volunteers and interact with guests, helping them be aware of social distancing and special rules, asking them not to touch artifacts, and requesting they follow a one-way path through the exhibits.
“This moment,” says museum executive director Jeremy Blowers, “could be a leap forward for technology.”
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