Students searching for library books at Aberystwyth University could soon be turning to a robot for assistance.
Designed to take verbal book requests, Hugh will be able to tell where a book is kept and show the student to the relevant book shelf.
Combining existing robot technology with information from PRIMO, the University’s online library search facility, Hugh will be a walking, talking library catalogue with access to 800,000 books.
Pasi and Ariel will present their prototype at a BCS Show & Tell event at Aberystwyth University on Friday 26 February and have invited fellow robotics and artificial intelligence students to contribute to the project’s development over the coming months.
“The next phase is to look at how it moves around without bumping into people and library furniture, how it finds out where the books are, how it interprets voice commands, how it displays the information, and what it looks like”, said Ariel. “And of course, in a quiet environment such as a library, should it have its own voice?”
According to Pasi, a veteran of the BBC’s Dragon’s Den series, key to Hugh’s success will be keeping things simple.
“As many who use mobile phone apps know, the simpler the app is, the more people are likely to use it. We are adopting the same philosophy with Hugh; his job will be to listen to your question, find the book and take you there”, he said.
Pasi sees Hugh as being the first in a line of “narrowly artificially intelligent robots” who will be able to undertake specific tasks in environments such as hospitals, care homes or supermarkets.
Elizabeth Kensler, Customer Services and Academic Engagement Manager for Information Services at Aberystwyth said: “Libraries are always looking to apply technology to improve the services they provide and there are successful examples of technological solutions complementing staffed services in all libraries. However, a robot librarian that finds a book and takes you to the relevant shelf could well be a world first.”
“The response of staff to the work done by Pasi and Ariel has been fantastic and we look forward to working with them as they test the prototype over the coming months. It will be fascinating to see how students interact with it, particularly speaking to the robot in what is essentially a quiet area for study.”
Pasi and Ariel aim to have a working robot in place to greet the new cohort of students in September 2016.
The BCS & Arts Tech Show & Tell event takes place at the Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies on Friday 26 February from 18:00 to 20:00.
To find out more about Hugh go to http://www.hugh.ai/