Most essential businesses stay open for basic needs. Others remain open to keep history alive.
The Ontario Regiment Museum contains the largest collection of operational historical military vehicles in North America, some of which are loaned out for TV and film productions, reenactments, and parades. To maintain these living historical artifacts, they must be regularly driven and repaired by a small army of volunteers, who continue to support the museum throughout the pandemic.
Master Corporal (MCpl) Lana stands out among them as an Animated Virtual Agent (AVA) developed by Canadian technology firm CloudConstable. She’s stationed at the employee entrance, dressed in fatigues as she screens volunteers for symptoms of COVID-19. Having proven herself effective and popular with staff, there are now plans to clone MCpl Lana to welcome visitors when the museum reopens for the public.
Over recent years, CloudConstable has worked with Intel on its AVA technology for smarter cities, using voice and vision artificial intelligence (AI) to greet visitors at a range of locations, from museums to healthcare and retail environments. The company enhanced the tech to help with the outbreak of COVID-19, introducing new touchless temperature scanning, fever detecting, custom screening questions, and delivery of health and safety protocols. With the need for pandemic mitigation expected for the foreseeable future, the company believes their virtual agents can help a variety of businesses reopen responsibly.
“The automated COVID-19 tracking and monitoring not only preserves the safety of our members, but also the safety of our community.” —Gita D’Souza, museum volunteer
Enlisting an AI with Character
MCpl Lana was initially designed as a friendly, personable way to welcome visitors and provide event services, such as checking people in and providing useful information about the facility. She can count visitors, provide crowd control, and allow entry by ticket, QR code, or even facial recognition if users opt in.1 She can carry a conversation and answer frequently asked questions thanks to natural language processing capabilities; she can just as easily respond to a nod “yes” or “no” thanks to her AI depth vision.
But right before her debut, the museum closed in March due to the rapid onset of the novel coronavirus. CloudConstable consulted with The Ontario Regiment Museum to find new ways the animated personal assistant could help.
The museum has more than 100 volunteers responsible for maintaining its fleet of historical military vehicles, some of which date back to the 1940s. These are the people that make sure the fuel doesn’t go bad, keep vehicle seals in good shape, and keep impossible-to-replace parts from breaking down. They drive tanks in a nearby field, keeping them operational so history buffs can experience them live, or see them on TV.
Everyone recognized that volunteer health was the new priority, and MCpl Lana received orders to help keep them safe.
Reinforcements Behind the Scenes
The virtual assistant found her new post in a new vestibule by the employee entrance, where volunteers can check in with MCpl Lana, undergo a temperature scan for fever detection, and answer questions concerning their health and possible contact with the virus. This installation was made possible by an Ergotron wall track to securely attach CloudConstable’s prototype sensor array (including an Intel® RealSense™ Depth Camera and a thermal scanner), an Intel® NUC 9 Pro system, a speakermic, and all the connectors into the vestibule that was custom fabricated by the Museum to shield the system from dust and heat emitted by vehicles being driven nearby.
Users that are determined to present a potential health risk are sent home, and the other volunteers can check out with her as they leave. Each volunteer can be recognized automatically, and everyone can expect a personalized greeting as they move through the touchless system.
Another AVA station is being created near the Museum’s main entrance. There, MCpl Lana will be outfitted with an Ergotron mobile cart, so that she can check in staff and volunteers during busy times at the Museum wherever she’s needed. Before long she will also be interacting with guests, helping make them aware of social distancing and special rules, asking them not to touch artifacts, and requesting they follow a one-way path through exhibits.
Back to Not-So-Basic Training
Pivoting MCpl Lana to a new role wasn’t simple, but it was imperative she could be redeployed quickly to meet the demands of the pandemic.
CloudConstable’s Animated Virtual Assistants rely on Intel hardware and software, including toolkits designed for AI and Intel RealSense Depth Cameras. Intel® Active Management Technology on the Intel vPro® platform enables secure remote management of the Intel NUC 9 Pro mini PC, which provides the performance needed for running machine inference models for face detection and head pose estimation, with hardware acceleration seamlessly handled by the Intel® Distribution of OpenVINO™ toolkit.
Michael Pickering, CEO of CloudConstable, noted that recent improvements to the underlying technology had made the COVID-19 screening possible.
“The Intel RealSense team has been particularly supportive, and it was based on them telling us that we had a much better solution for touchless interaction that we began to focus on the COVID-19 screening scenarios,” Pickering said. “Afterwards, we initiated the project to build our custom sensor array, which integrates the touchless, LWIR thermal scanning results to detect potentially elevated body temperatures as a key warning sign of potential COVID-19 transmission.”
Protecting a Fragile Recovery
CloudConstable anticipates their AVA technology can help other high-foot-traffic environments such as retail and healthcare as well. Even local governments and small businesses, such as local dental practices and music schools, have inquired into how AVA could help them keep employees and customers safe by screening.
There’s good reason to think she’ll be a hit for all sorts of clients: COVID-19 has made people wary of close contact, but also eager for more human ways to interact.
Jeremy Blowers, the executive director of The Ontario Regiment Museum, was impressed to see that people of all backgrounds and ages were intrigued by MCpl Lana, and most were eager to sign up for her facial recognition functionality.
“Obviously MCpl Lana is great because she doesn’t need to take breaks, never has a bad day, and is always on message,” he said. “But it was fantastic to see the level of excitement about her. This moment could be a leap forward for this technology.”